Staring into the batter’s box, opposing pitchers find the ominous figure of an All-American first baseman with 57 career home runs to her name. Understandably, they’re terrified to give senior Dorian Shaw anything to hit.
Shaw, who bats third for the No. 4 Michigan softball team (3-1 Big Ten, 33-3 overall), had been walked 33 times in 33 games heading into last week, which put her third in the nation in walks per game.
But with two more imposing sluggers batting behind her in junior third baseman Amanda Chidester (.385 batting average, 6 home runs, 37 RBI) and sophomore second baseman Ashley Lane (.356, 11, 41), Shaw didn’t anticipate this happening at the beginning of the season.
“I haven’t been getting walked often,” Shaw said 10 games into the season, on Feb. 23. “I think it really helps to have (Chidester) and (Lane) behind me in the lineup because pitchers have to make that difficult decision as to whether they’re going to let me hit or let them hit, because they’re playing so well.
“It’s more likely they’re going to pitch to me now because I have that protection behind me. If they can keep this up, I won’t have to worry about people trying to pitch around me, and I’ll just be able to focus on hitting.”
And though Chidester has made teams pay — she knocked a game-winning grand slam less than two weeks ago against Northwestern — Shaw’s seemingly-rational prediction hasn’t come true.
After taking a free pass seven times in last week’s three contests, her 40 base-on-balls are 22 more than anyone else has while donning a Michigan uniform this season.
The walks have also led to her .600 on-base percentage — good for 10th in Division-I softball.
But while Shaw might not appreciate the lack of action, Chidester embraces the extra pressure put on her.
“That has been happening all year, and there have been times where I haven’t been able to come through with a hit,” Chidester said of teams walking Shaw to get to her. “But I get excited for it because I want to be able to help the team out, so I like that opportunity.
“Especially because you have (Lane) behind me, and she’s a great power hitter, too. So yeah, you can get around one power hitter, but you have two right behind her.”
Shaw looked poised to break Michigan’s all-time home run record after crushing six in her first 10 games, but she has only tallied four in her last 26 contests.
That means she still needs another five to match former All-American second baseman Samantha Findlay’s mark of 62.
With 19 regular-season games left, there’s plenty of time, but if pitchers continue to get the jitters when Shaw — the fourth overall pick in this year’s National Pro Fast Pitch Draft — steps up to the plate, she may never break the record.
Still, Shaw isn’t all that concerned about numbers, calling the record just the “cherry on top” of a potential Big Ten title and national championship.