Awaiting the opening of Big Ten play later this week, the No. 6 Michigan softball team has already learned a lot about its roster: This team has depth at the plate, in the field and on the mound.
The Wolverines create runs from a number of hitters in the order and are comfortable playing in tight games and blowouts. Though Michigan coach Carol Hutchins continues to tinker with pitching, a stable Michigan starting lineup has emerged in recent weeks.
The Daily breaks down the 2014 Wolverines.
Haylie Wagner is back.
Michigan has a deep pitching rotation with freshman Megan Betsa and junior Sara Driesenga, but Wagner, who was plagued by a back injury last season, is perfect on the year and sporting an unthinkable 0.93 earned run average in the 15 appearances she’s made so far. The left-handed junior has faced top competition and finally looks healthy.
Driesenga and Betsa, both right-handed, throw harder than Wagner and have shown some great flashes from the mound, but continue to be inconsistent. Driesenga, who was expected to be the go-to pitcher before the season, and Betsa, have each seen 30 fewer innings than Wagner this year but still figure to play major roles. Hutchins wants to be able to use her full rotation come NCAA tournament time in May, so both pitchers will see a lot of game action.
Junior Lauren Sweet has been solid defensively this year and has continued to grow into a vocal leader for the Wolverines. Michigan could use a little more offensive production from Sweet, though, who is batting just .224, but has hit well in clutch situations this season. Sweet’s real value is as a defensive rock behind the plate, and her performance in the first third of the season has reinforced that notion.
First base emerged last season as a steady point in the Wolverines’ infield when then junior Caitlin Blanchard stepped up to the challenge and was named to the All Big Ten First Team. Now a senior, Blanchard has played an important role in the batting order, backing up sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero to make teams think twice about walking Michigan’s star at the plate. Blanchard has exceeded expectations, slugging .452 with 18 RBI.
One of the Wolverines’ most important freshman contributors has been Abby Ramirez, who has committed only one error on the year in the field and is batting a respectable .324. Michigan would like to see more clutch hitting out of Ramirez, though, as she is batting just .125 with runners in scoring position. If Ramirez can continue to improve at the plate, she will have a good chance to be an All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection at the end of the season.
In her second season, sophomore Sierra Romero has dealt with sky-high expectations with aplomb. Romero, who was selected to the ESPNW preseason All-America first team, is slugging .791 with 31 RBI. In addition to continuing to be a threat in the field, Romero is also batting .606 with runners in scoring position, something the Wolverines have struggled with. Romero will continue to wreak havoc on opposing teams despite facing a large number of intentional walks already this season.
Third base was a big question mark for Michigan before the season, but freshman Lindsay Montemarano has ended the debate. Montemarano won the job with outstanding performances in the infield all winter, boasting a .953 fielding percentage. The second freshman in a young infield, Montemarano, too, has struggled a bit at the plate, but has started all but three games this season.
The big three names in the outfield have been sophomore Sierra Lawrence and seniors Nicole Sappingfield and Lyndsay Doyle. All three have started the majority of games this year and contributed significantly at the plate.
Lawrence, coming off an exceptional freshman season, has been particularly strong. In 27 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Lawrence has knocked in 22 RBI, second only to Romero. Sappingfield and Doyle are batting .398 and .344 respectively and providing an important dose of senior leadership. Hutchins has repeatedly complained that the Wolverines have lacked leadership at times this season, and both Doyle and Sappingfield are in perfect roles to step up as leaders in the coming months.