In Michigan’s last tournament before the team started home games, the Wolverines managed to score just two runs in a three-game span.
A main reason for this was the “lack of quality at-bats” by Michigan.
Since returning home, the Wolverines have bucked that trend and witnessed an offensive revival.
Through the first four games of a five-game home stand, Michigan has won three out of four games by mercy rule, including both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader against Penn State as well as its season opener against Eastern Michigan.
The sudden offensive explosion for the Wolverines can be credited to the senior center fielder and leadoff hitter Bree Evans.
Evans, who hit .500 in the weekend’s series, went three-for-three in Saturday’s first game and scored three of Michigan’s 11 runs, including the 10th run via senior first baseman Amanda Chidester’s game-ending two-run home run.
Being the leadoff hitter, it is Evans’ responsibility to try to expose the opposing pitcher’s vulnerabilities to the rest of the team.
“I want to try to get as many pitches as I can so the batters can see as many pitches before they’re at bat,” Evans said.
Since the role of the leadoff hitter is to “set the table” for the middle of the lineup, it’s important for Evans to get on base by any means possible.
“The whole time, I’m trying to get (the ball) on the ground,” Evans said.
Due to Evans’ speed, hitting the ball on the ground and finding open holes in the infield is essential for her success. As a result, 28 of her 30 hits this season have been singles.
THREE’S COMPANY: After picking up all three wins for the Michigan softball team against Penn State over the weekend, freshman pitcher Haylie Wagner was awarded with Big Ten Pitcher of the Week. This marks the third time that Wagner has won the award this season.
With the three weekend victories, Wagner improved to 15-4.
Wagner went the distance in both of her starts, highlighted by her fourth shutout on Sunday. In that game, Wagner struck out five while only giving up two hits.
“Haylie is our best pitcher,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “I thought she was our best option.”
Wagner’s other appearance and win came in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, when she came in as a reliever for fellow freshman Sara Driesenga. Wagner went on to pitch the last three innings of the game, tallying two strikeouts.
Having the ability “to stay in (her) moment” was something that Hutchins believed was critical for the Wolverines’ success this weekend, and Wagner had that.
Unlike the Nittany Lions’ pitching, which allowed 20 walks over the weekend series, Wagner walked only three. In addition, she managed to surrender just six hits to Penn State, while registering ten strikeouts.
After holding the Nittany Lions to a .118 average, Wagner was able to finish the week with a 1.40 ERA.
HOW SWEET IT IS: Freshman catcher Lauren Sweet was another award winner for Michigan this week. For the first time, she was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
While catching in all three weekends games, Sweet hit .833, going five-for-six at the plate and adding a home run. Four of those hits came on Saturday, as Sweet went two-for-two in each game.
Because of her patience at the plate, Sweet was able to draw four walks at the plate in the three-game set. In addition, Sweet drove in three runs and scored three runs for the Wolverines.
As a result of this performance, Sweet posted a 2.400 OPS during the series against Penn State.
Perhaps hidden in Sweet’s performance from the weekend was that it came from the eighth spot in the batting order.
“The bottom of the order is as important as the top of the order,” Hutchins said.
According to Hutchins, if Sweet can continue this level of production, Michigan can be a “dangerous team.”
Plus, Sweet has something that doesn’t show up in the box score – toughness.
After getting hit by a pitch in the bottom of the sixth, Sweet remained in the game and caught the final inning even though she appeared to be in pain.