Senior Alycia Ryan, fresh off of her walk-off single against Iowa, was walking on air on her way to the Michigan softball team’s clubhouse, wearing a genuine, ear-to-ear smile more contagious than a cramped room of sneezing students.
Others couldn’t help but feel good for Ryan, who didn’t become a regular starter until the 211th game of her career.
She took the moment in. Her moment.
“There’s no way you can’t be happy for Alycia Ryan,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said after the game this past Sunday. “She’s the nicest kid they ever invented.”
Ryan was supposed to be a bench-warmer for the No. 2 Michigan lineup, which features two All-Americans in senior first baseman Dorian Shaw and senior pitcher Jordan Taylor.
When called upon, she’d sprinkle in some timely pinch-running and hitting.
Instead, with Taylor in street clothes due to an injury and Shaw buried in the No. 7 slot in the lineup, it was Ryan who delivered in a must-win game for the Big Ten co-leading Wolverines.
“(Ryan has) been getting it done since we put her in the second game against Indiana,” Hutchins said. “She walks in every day — I tell the kids — and she looks at the lineup board to see if she’s on. ‘Oh, I’m on it. Good, I get to play again.’ And she doesn’t make too much of it; she’s happy about her opportunity.”
And despite her individual heroics, Ryan’s first words while being interviewed after the game were “my teammates.” She’s the kind of team-oriented player that coaches dream of having.
On a veteran-laden team with stars like Taylor and Shaw, players like Ryan don’t often see the spotlight. But lately, with Taylor sidelined and Shaw slumping, the lesser-known individuals have had to shine for the Wolverines.
“There’s something to be said — it’s like the ‘Rudy’ story — those kids rise to the occasion because they’re excited to play,” Hutchins said. “At the end of the game, what I like best, is … they didn’t care, they just wanted to win. And that kind of team can win.”
SLUMPING SHAW: Shaw is in the midst of a 12-for-56 (.214 batting average) slump, hitting just one homerun and tallying seven RBI in the last 22 games.
The slugger has 11 homeruns on the season and is trailing former Wolverine Samantha Findlay by five for Michigan’s all-time record. But Shaw has cooled off considerably since her hot start — 9 HR in her first 19 games.
Her batting average still stands at .364, but Hutchins isn’t happy with her recent play, as evidenced by the recent line-up shift.
“She’s not going to argue with me, but I think Dorian could have responded by giving the team better energy and just having better energy and making the most of her opportunity,” Hutchins said. “She’s got to respond to (being moved down in the batting order); I’m challenging her … I challenge all my kids because I want them to fight back.
“But if you’re just gonna put your head down and put your ears down like a bad dog, jeez, I hope nobody runs you over.”