David vs. Goliath?
Not quite. But when Eastern Michigan comes to Ann Arbor for tonight’s doubleheader, it will take an epic performance by the Eagles to snap Michigan’s season-high nine-game winning streak.
The Eagles (2-8 MAC, 4-25 overall) have struggled mightily this season in just about every area possible. The team’s combined 5.35 ERA is more than four runs per game higher than the Wolverines’ (7-1 Big Ten, 25-8). To make matters worse, Eastern Michigan hasn’t been making up for its high ERA at the plate either, batting just .199 as a team.
But Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has always preached that no matter who the opponent is, her team heads into the game with the same attitude.
“One thing that (Hutchins) teaches us is to focus on ourselves, not on our opponents,” sophomore pitcher Nicole Motycka said. “Even though she tells us to do that, it is hard, because you’re thinking, ‘Oh, it’s just Eastern,’ but it challenges us to play at our level instead of theirs.”
And lately, the Wolverines’ level has been quite high.
Over the weekend, Michigan’s pitching staff, most notably Motycka and senior Marissa Young, gave up just three combined runs in four games. Young’s performance on the mound, combined with her success at the plate – she hit a grand slam in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader – earned her honors as both Big Ten Player of the Week and Pitcher of the Week, something she had never done before in her career at Michigan.
The Wolverines were off yesterday following a road sweep of Wisconsin and Minnesota this weekend.
But having to come back and play another doubleheader on just one day’s rest could prove to be a good warmup for what may come later this season.
“We are just happy to be able to play in good weather,” Motycka said. “We need to get all these games in. These games this week will build (pitchers’) endurance and get us ready for the playoffs.”
In addition to increasing their stamina for the postseason, the Wolverines will also look to fine-tune other areas of their game to extend their winning streak.
“(We need to) just keep doing what we’re doing,” Motycka said. “Hitting the ball as well as we have been, and pitching is another key, and our defense has been solid, too. So if we can keep doing the things we’re doing and improve on the little things, then we will continue on the streak.”
Tonight’s games will be the team’s first games under the permanent lights at Alumni Field. Following last year’s NCAA Regional in Ann Arbor, which featured temporary light, Michigan elected to install the permanent ones.