The Michigan softball team looked like a distracted group on Tuesday.
With exams approaching quickly you wouldn’t blame them, but the 20th-ranked Wolverines don’t see stress as the issue.
“Once we get into the game, once we get stretched and warmed up, (the mindset) is always like ‘zone in and focus on softball,’ ” said sophomore right-fielder Nicole Sappingfield. “There’s nothing you can do while it happens that you can control.”
Added coach Carol Hutchins: “We’re not taking exams now. We’re playing softball.”
They do blame consistency though.
Rather than continue their dominance after a strong weekend against Michigan State, the Wolverines’ first five innings in Tuesday’s game against Central Michigan looked lackluster and completely different. It was in the sixth inning, though, that the bats found their groove and scored nine runs to break a 1-1 tie.
Michigan (11-1 Big Ten, 31-11 overall) traveled up to Mount Pleasant for yet another midweek game against a Mid-American Conference team and walked away with a 10-2 six-inning victory.
The offense highlighted the day, though, after failing to get a runner on base until the fourth inning. But like much of the season, Michigan needed momentum to shift the game in its favor.
The nine-run inning kicked off when sophomore right-fielder Lyndsay Doyle singled and advanced to second base after an error. Sappingfield followed by laying down a bunt for single — one of her three hits on the day — and senior first baseman Amanda Chidester hit a double for the first RBI of the inning.
“I think today I was just being a little more aggressive than I normally am,” Sappingfield said. (I’m) really just trying to see the ball, hit the ball, and not do too much with it.”
After an RBI single by junior second-baseman Ashley Lane, starting freshman pitcher Sara Driesenga hit an RBI double to make the score 5-1.
It wasn’t until junior shortstop Amy Knapp hit another two-run RBI double that Central Michigan changed pitchers. The Chippewas carried a 2.46 team ERA coming into Tuesday’s matchup, but went through three pitchers in the sixth inning.
The change made little difference though, as freshman catcher Lauren Sweet continued her hot streak with a single, moving Knapp to third. In the next at-bat, Hutchins got creative and called for a double steal. Sweet stole second and Knapp stole home which put yet another run on the board.
Sappingfiled came through with another hit, this time an RBI single, to make the score 9-1, and Chidester finished the scoring with a fielder’s choice to the shortstop.
“I zoned in a little bit more and tried to hit the ball harder,” Sappingfield said.
But Hutchins was not pleased with the amount of time it took to show any signs of life on offense.
“We weren’t ready at the first pitch of the game,” Hutchins said. “We’re relying on external factors to get us ready to go. I think our kids have to decide who they want to be.”
As of recently — including Tuesday’s performance — the Wolverines have developed an inconsistent pattern on offense.
Last Wednesday, Michigan was shut out by Western Michigan in their first home loss of the season after scoring a total of 27 runs in an earlier series against Ohio State. Against Michigan State this past weekend, the Wolverines waited four innings to score, putting up eight runs in the fifth inning. But they were only able to muster two runs in the first game against the Spartans on Sunday.
But the difference between the game against the Spartans and the game against the Broncos was a lack of effort.
“The (team) walked in with swagger (against Michigan State). They played the kind of games they played against bigger girls, and I didn’t see that all (yesterday),” Hutchins said.
The pitching for the Wolverines, which holds the lowest team ERA in the Big Ten, also played inconsistent. Driesenga started the game until the third inning — after she gave up one run on five hits — and freshman left-hander Haylie Wagner relieved her with the same stat line.
“I told both the pitchers I was not pleased with them to come in here and give up 10 hits combined,” said Hutchins. “It was just pitiful.”