It seems somewhat smug — cocky even — to ask for more excitement.

But could anyone blame Michigan softball fans if they did?

Since Big Ten play started three weeks ago, there’s been a routine: a conference foe visits Ann Arbor, it gets swept in a pair of blowouts at the hands of the second-ranked Wolverines (9-0 Big Ten, 33-5 overall) and the team boards the bus home, heads hanging.

Even the unusually competitive games don’t really show the story on the scoreboard.

In Saturday’s matchup against a visiting Northwestern, Big Ten broadcaster and former All-American Wolverine pitcher Jennie Ritter lauded Michigan for staying competitive and winning in an unusually “scrappy” fashion.

But the Wildcats still lost by four runs — hardly a close game.

Maybe scrappy means actually playing a full seven innings, as opposed to mercy-ruling the opponent in five. The mercy rule has actually become the norm for Michigan lately, rather than the exception. The team has done it eight times in its last 11 games.

Such an unprecedented level of dominance has the team drawing comparisons to the 2005 squad that brought home the program’s first NCAA championship trophy.

And Ritter, whose single-season program record 38 wins in 2005 undoubtedly played an integral role in the team’s championship run, sees a 2010 lineup that could return the Wolverines to glory.

She’s noticed the productivity at the bottom three batters of the order, who have struck nearly as much fear in pitchers this season as the top six. Through 38 games, they’re batting a combined .307 with 50 runs driven in.

“That was the story of our 2005 season,” Ritter said, “when (Stephanie) Bercaw and (Rebekah) Millian showed up at the bottom of the lineup. And the lineup this year is incredible. I mean, the seventh hitter is batting over .300.

“To me, it’s so exciting to see that there is a possibility to have them go back and try for that World Series.”

And the lineup is only one part of Michigan’s depth.

While it’s tough to compare this year’s pitching duo — junior Jordan Taylor and senior Nikki Nemitz — to the hurler that set all-time Michigan records in nearly every major pitching category, they’re still performing among the best of the NCAA.

Through the first 51 innings of conference play, they’ve given up just 11 runs and tallied 74 strikeouts.

The mere fact that there are two of them could be advantageous in the long-term. Ritter took on the bulk of the work in the 2005 run, getting the start in 15 of the 16 postseason contests. This season, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins distributes the work more evenly, as both Taylor and Nemitz have tossed more than 100 innings through the first 37 regular season games.

“What’s great about it is, number one, it promotes a sense of competition between the two, so you have the ability to want to step it up a little bit more,” Ritter said. “But at the same time, you know that if you’re having an off day, there’s someone there to pick you up. And all pitchers have off days.”

But there’s still only one factor that could decide whether this team can go the distance — motivation.

When a team as balanced as Michigan is in a weak conference like the Big Ten, it can unintentionally lull itself to sleep as it sweeps inferior teams in a lengthy season.

Just like the fans, the players wish they could speed ahead to face the field in Oklahoma City.

“They have every single chance to win it,” Ritter said. “But somebody’s got to push them. Somebody’s got to give them a tough game. Try their patience. Test them out. Give them a chance to understand what it takes to get to that World Series.”

Time will tell if there is any team that can challenge the 2010 squad before the postseason starts on May 21.

Until then, the team, the fans and Ritter will just have to wait patiently.

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