After a brief hiatus, the Michigan softball team is back on top.

Atop of the Big Ten, that is.

After earning two wins over Minnesota last weekend, the second-ranked Wolverines were able to stay tied for first in the conference with Indiana. But the Hoosiers fell to Northwestern on Sunday night, forcing them to drop down to second place in the conference and giving Michigan sole control of the top spot.

The Wolverines (16-2 Big Ten, 49-4 overall) won the Big Ten last season, but Michigan played amidst a lack of competition during conference play.

But this season, losses to Indiana and Iowa, along with comebacks against teams like Minnesota and Wisconsin, have given the Wolverines much-needed preparation for post-season play, which is just around the corner.

“I think winning tough games does a lot more for you than blowing people out,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “It’s kind of a two-edged sword.”

This year, Michigan has outscored its opponents 110-45 in conference play. Although an incredible feat, when compared to to last season’s numbers — a whopping 165-26 — the proof is in the pudding.

“Last year we faced no adversity in the Big Ten season,” senior first baseman Dorian Shaw said. “Ohio State was just a minor blip on the road to Super Regionals. And then at Super Regionals, we just crashed and burned.

“Now we’re playing these tough games that we have to fight to get out of, and I think that’s going to help us down the road.”

SNAPPING THE SLUMP: Shaw and sophomore shortstop Amy Knapp had been in quite the hitting slump prior to last weekend.

Shaw, a veteran at the plate, wasn’t hitting like her usual self, trading in home runs for walks and dribblers around the infield. Knapp was batting a team-low .225. The duo had 25 and 24 strikeouts on the season, respectively.

But against Minnesota, the two infielders rediscovered some of their mojo.

On Saturday, Shaw snapped out of her slump by hitting an RBI double to send freshman left fielder Nicole Sappingfield home for the game-winning run against the Golden Gophers.

Knapp also made progress against Minnesota, going 2-for-3 on Sunday with a three run-triple.

“Amy does a lot of things well,” Hutchins said. “She needs to build on them. That’s how you gain confidence.”

Knapp added: “It’s been difficult, but I’ve been in a slump. I haven’t been consistent and that was my one goal for the season. Coming out against Minnesota and doing what I’ve wanted to do all season makes me feel a lot better.”

TO THE LEFT, TO THE LEFT: Five of the nine batters on the Michigan roster swing left-handed. And lately, these lefty hitters have been on quite the tear.

Junior center fielder Bree Evans — batting .417 — continued her 19-game hit streak and collected her team-leading 29th multi-hit game of the season last Sunday.

Evans also currently leads the Big Ten in hits (78) and runs scored (56).

Sappingfield and freshman right fielder Lindsay Doyle have also been thriving at the plate.

Sappingfield also joins Evans in the top of the conference for hits and runs scored, with 70 and 43 respectively. Sappingfield earned her third three-hit performance of her collegiate career last Sunday against the Golden Gophers.

Doyle, whose success at the plate has been just of late, earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors two weeks ago after hitting a .833 against Wisconsin during the series on April 30.

ALL HAIL MICHIGAN: Three Wolverines earned Big Ten weekly awards this week: junior third baseman Amanda Chidester, senior pitcher Jordan Taylor and Sappingfield.

Chidester, who leads the team with a .421 batting average, nabbed Big Ten Player of the Week after her explosive week against Ohio State and Minnesota. She drove in 13 runs during Michigan’s five wins last week, including her third grand slam of the season.

Taylor picked up Big Ten Pitcher of the Week for the second straight week. She featured a 0.84 ERA and struck out 34 batters in four games against the Buckeyes and Gophers. Taylor’s record this season now stands at 27-3.

Sappingfield collected Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second time this season. She made several big plays in left field to keep Michigan’s defense tight, and went 9-for-17 during the five-game week. She drove in the game-tying run against Minnesota on Saturday and scored twice herself on the weekend.

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