In softball, it’s rare that a pitcher finds her way into the batting order, especially when she’s also starting in the circle.
But for Michigan’s freshman Sara Driesenga, it’s a different story.
On March 21, against Eastern Michigan, Driesenga found herself in the lineup, both as a pitcher and as a hitter. And she made the most of both opportunities.
The right-hander notched three strikeouts and gave up one earned run in five innings, enough for her fifth win of the season.
At the plate, Driesenga — who held a .504 career batting average in high school — drew a walk in the first inning, then knocked in two runs with a home run to left-center field in the third inning.
And that was all Michigan coach Carol Hutchins needed to see.
“Sara has been swinging her bat,” Hutchins said. “We had her off and on early in the preseason. We really wanted her to spend time focusing on her pitching and working on her swing during practice, but we gave her an opportunity against Eastern Michigan.”
Her performance against the Eagles earned her a permanent spot in the lineup as the designated player. The designated player is the softball equivalent to the designated hitter in baseball, just with a different name.
“She earned her spot, and it’s hers to lose,” Hutchins said.
Since then, Driesenga has a .491 average, tallied six RBIs and seven runs, knocked in two solo home runs — both in the first game against Ohio State last weekend — and drew five walks. And if you’re just looking at batting average, with no minimum at-bats, Driesenga leads the team at .395.
Her pitching has also improved since the nonconference schedule. The Hudsonville, Mich. native picked up her sixth and seventh wins in conference play and has improved her release, giving her the ability to complete more games.
Though she’s expected to do well in the circle, she’s impressed Hutchins in the batter’s box.
But is Hutchins really surprised by Driesenga’s production?
“I don’t know about surprised,” Hutchins said. “We think she’s capable and she’s been very poised in the box. We’ve been searching throughout the year to find a lineup that’s going to work for us. We had a lot of different kids we looked to, and she responded immediately and been really consistent.”
The infield has rotated numerous times this season, including spots on the field and in the batting order, while the outfield has remained somewhat constant.
Michigan was missing a ninth batter who could be a reliable threat. Hutchins tried freshman catcher Becca Garfinkel, sophomore catcher Caitlin Blanchard and even freshman left-hander Haylie Wagner, who batted well over .400 in high school.
But after her breakout performance against Eastern Michigan, Driesenga has found herself in the lineup every game since.
And with Driesenga now a part of a solid lineup, the Wolverines have seen a significant jump in offensive production across the board.
“This is now the nine we’re going to go with at this point,” Hutchins said, on the permanent addition of Driesenga to the lineup. “(And) we do seem to be hitting our stride offensively. We seem comfortable.”