With No. 2 Michigan’s 12-2 victory over Notre Dame in the Ann Arbor regional final, the team clinched a spot in the NCAA Super Regional — softball’s equivalent of a Sweet 16.
And minutes after the win, No. 15 Tennessee’s Nicole Kajitani ripped a pitch over the head of Louisville’s second baseman to drive in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the Knoxville regional final.
Michigan and Tennessee’s fates were sealed.
The two will face off this upcoming Friday and Saturday in the best-of-three super regional series, and it will be held at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor. Next weekend will mark the third time Michigan has hosted the super regional and the first since 2008.
Scouting the enemy: If there’s one thing that stands out when glancing at Tennessee’s depth chart, it’s youth.
The team carries 10 freshmen on its roster, and six underclassmen start in the Lady Vols’ everyday lineup.
And if there’s one deficiency with Michigan’s roster, it’s youth — the everyday lineup consists of five seniors and no freshmen.
But Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has yet to decide whether Tennessee’s age is a good or bad quality.
“I know they’re young,” Hutchins said. “But that concerns me as much as if they’re old. They always have great talent, and they’re always competitive. So, you know what, we’ll focus on us, as always.”
With the age difference will come two very different styles of softball.
Tennessee is fast. And the Lady Vol hitters have become incredibly adept at chopping the ball to the left side of the infield and legging out base hits.
They drill the ball into the ground, bouncing it 25 feet into the air, and by the time the third baseman comes up with it, she has no chance at a play at first.
Once they’re on base, they run wild — Tennessee has stolen 119 bases this season, dwarfing Michigan’s 44.
But that’s not to say that the Wolverines aren’t willing to give their opponent a taste of its own medicine. They surprised their opponents in the Ann Arbor regional by swiping four bases over three games.
Michigan will also come into the series with significantly more power than Tennessee. After seven home runs in the regional, Michigan has 81 long balls in 2010, compared to Tennessee’s 47. Senior third baseman Maggie Viefhaus and junior first baseman Dorian Shaw are both sitting one home run shy of the program single-season record with 20 apiece.
Michigan’s pitching strategy: Hutchins doesn’t appear to have a strict pitching strategy thus far in the postseason.
She’s only revealed that she’ll give the start to whoever gives the Wolverines the best shot at winning.
And as of now, that means that junior pitcher Jordan Taylor will probably get the start in tougher games. Senior pitcher Nikki Nemitz got the nod for the regional opener against lowly Wright State, and Taylor was tapped for both starts against Notre Dame.
In 2005, during Michigan’s championship run, Jennie Ritter started every game of the tournament. So don’t be surprised if Hutchins goes with Taylor from here-on-out.
And if Nemitz does get the start, expect Taylor to enter at the first sign of trouble.