CHAMPAIGN From 1998-2000, Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins did not have to ponder who would be the Wolverines” third baseman.
The hot corner was occupied by Pam Kosanke, who was a four-year starter three years at third base. Kosanke was a career .300 hitter and Michigan”s MVP in 2000.
When Kosanke graduated, Hutchins needed to choose between two possible replacements: Junior Stefanie Volpe and freshman Angie Churchill.
Volpe, an All-America selection a year ago, was primarily used as a designated player, and Churchill was expected to fill the defensive void left by Kosanke.
Before this weekend”s road trip to DePaul and Illinois, neither one had filled the hole.
“I”m constantly searching for a third baseman,” Hutchins said. “It”s tough for the kids to come in and play in that situation.”
The obvious choice for Hutchins was to play Churchill at third and keep Volpe in her role as designated player, but defensive lapses and a lack of offense forced a change.
In the first game against DePaul, Churchill garnered her coach”s wrath by not covering her base on a routine grounder, allowing a Blue Demon to advance to third uncontested.
“Church hurt us (Friday),” Hutchins said.
The door was open for Volpe to play third base in the second game against DePaul and in the games against Illinois, and for now, she has taken advantage.
“Volpe has had a better attitude and has worked harder,” Hutchins said. “I told her the only reason I put her in was that I felt she wanted to play third base. For a couple weeks there, I didn”t think she wanted to.”
“It”s not that I don”t want to be out there, it”s just that I was struggling with my offense and everything was affecting everything else,” Volpe said. “I just lost a lot of confidence out there.”
In the first game against Illinois, Volpe fielded five chances without an error, while going 2-3 at the plate with 4 RBIs. In the second game, she struggled with her offense but was still able to help the team with error-free play at third.
Hutchins was enthused about the play of her All-American.
“Volpe is working to win the position, and I”m pleased to see that,” Hutchins said.
Volpe believes that her age and her time working with Kosanke gives her the edge over Churchill.
“Pam Kosanke I learned everything about third base from her. So I just try to take after her,” Volpe said. “Plus, being a junior, I kind of deserve that position.”
With the designated player spot open, Hutchins could find another hitting specialist to insert into the lineup and inject life into the Wolverines” inconsistent attack.
Michigan had been rotating its catchers, with senior Kim Bugel and freshman Monica Schock splitting time. With Volpe at third, Hutchins put Bugel behind the plate and had Schock hit for her.
Schock hit the ball well in the first game against Illinois, driving in two runs, and Bugel had some key blocks on wild pitches in the rainy weather.
Only a freshman, Schock is the Wolverines” catcher of the future.
“Mo is a great catcher, and she”s going to be one of the very best, I think, in the country,” Hutchins said.
But Bugel adds experience and leadership to a team that is looking for both.
“As we get into the Big Ten, experience counts and Mo is going to get some more experience, but right now I have to say that I like Bugel behind the plate,” Hutchins said. “She gives us that calming edge we need.”
“It”s my position,” Bugel said with a smile. “I know when I go back there, Hutch is like, “Bring the spunk out there.” (Monica) is a freshman she needs to learn. She”s getting there. I”m trying to teach her.”
Since Marissa Young is the only Wolverine pitcher who also hits, using Volpe at third, Bugel catching and Schock as the designated player will not work when Marie Barda or Kate Eiland pitch.
In those situations, Bugel and Schock will probably both hit, with Bugel spending the majority of the time behind the plate.
Having a set lineup for even one game in three will allow the Wolverines to build confidence and consistency.
If the new lineup produces the same kind of offensive outbursts it did in the 10-2 win over Illinois on Saturday, the Wolverines should compete for a Big Ten title with their solid pitching and defense.
“Offense hasn”t been our strength, so you have to soar with your strengths, and pitching and defense have been our strength the whole season,” Hutchins said.