CHAMPAIGN – Seconds before the starting lineups were announced for the Michigan softball team’s game against Illinois on Saturday, the Wolverines seemed to have other things on their minds.

Senior shortstop Teddi Ewing was warming up unusually in the grass down the right field line. Ewing was “pitching” to freshman Stephanie Kirkpatrick, who was just five feet away. The makeshift at-bat was complete with sophomore first baseman Dorian Shaw playing catcher and starting pitcher Nikki Nemitz as the umpire.

The rest of the team watched and laughed as Kirkpatrick took exaggerated swings — after the ball was in Shaw’s glove.

To many observers, the Wolverines might have appeared to be unfocused. But to Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, they looked like they were on track to win. And they followed-through, sweeping the Illini 8-2 and 8-3.

“Michigan softball is best when they are loose,” Hutchins said. “When kids have fun, they usually play their best. We try to keep an atmosphere that’s fun. We don’t always succeed with it, but I really do believe that when kids come out here to play.”

Although watching junior Roya St. Clair strike a Heisman pose during fly ball drills might be confusing, nobody can argue with the results. Michigan, ranked No. 8 in the country with a 32-9 record, sits third in the Big Ten at 8-2 in conference.

Going streaking: Michigan had two extraordinary streaks come to an end over the weekend, but not its most important one — 12 straight wins.

Nemitz and sophomore Jordan Taylor had combined to throw eleven straight no-hit innings until Nemitz gave up a single to Illinois junior Hope Howell in the fourth inning of the weekend’s first game.

The hitless innings contributed to the other streak the two had — 19 consecutive shutout innings.

The Wolverines had not given up a run in their previous two games and three innings until the Fighting Illini finally put a run on the scoreboard in the first game’s fourth inning.

The team’s winning streak is its longest this season. Last year, the Wolverines strung together a 15-game streak and a separate 14-game streak. A sweep of Wisconsin in Madison next weekend will tie last year’s streak, but leaves it well short of the all-time mark of 32, set back in 2005 en route to the national championship.

“We are not thinking ahead and we are just staying within ourselves,” freshman Amanda Chidester said.

Notes: The Wolverines have scored 43 runs in the five games since Kirkpatrick moved into the leadoff spot. They have scored at least seven in four of five games. … Michigan swept Illinois for the second straight time. The Illini haven’t beaten Michigan since 2007. … Nemitz gave up one earned run yesterday, slightly raising her ERA to a Big Ten-leading 0.78. She has the fourth-lowest ERA in the country.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.