Although the fourth-ranked Michigan softball team’s 13-game win streak came to a close on Saturday, its season-opening 27-game road trip still culminated in a successful 4-1 weekend at the Judi German Classic in Fullerton, Calif.
The Wolverines (22-5) got to work early on Thursday, as they downed No. 2 Arizona in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel that saw no runs on the board until extra innings.
Junior pitcher Jordan Taylor and the Michigan offense knew Thursday’s game would be the team’s toughest test thus far. They were facing off against Arizona’s prized freshman phenom Kenzie Fowler, the 2008 and 2009 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. Fowler was previously undefeated with a 0.70 ERA, not to mention a lineup behind her that has three hitters with a .420-plus batting average (the Wolverines don’t have a single .400-plus hitter).
But Michigan coach Carol Hutchins wasn’t particularly intimidated.
“We want our team to prepare the same for every game because the game of softball doesn’t know whether you’re playing Arizona or whoever,” Hutchins said. “We don’t play the opponent’s name on their chest; we come out and play at the same high level for everyone.”
Day two of the tournament saw an offensive explosion, as the team scored a combined 29 runs against UNLV and Utah.
The team needed every bit of run support against UNLV that morning, as it squeaked by in a 14-13 victory that was characterized by a slew of pitching miscues and unearned runs. And though the Wolverines took down the unranked Utes in a convincing 15-1 five-inning victory in game two, it started in a similar manner — Taylor gave up a leadoff walk, hit two batters and committed three illegal pitches before exiting in the first inning.
The illegal pitches raised some eyebrows on the Michigan bench. Taylor was called for a crow-hop violation — the pitcher’s back foot must be kept on the ground — which had yet to be called on her this season.
“It’s being called on a lot of pitchers this year who have never been called for it,” Taylor said. “Apparently it’s a big issue right now in softball.”
Hutchins isn’t particularly worried about the perceived adjustment in enforcement, so long as Taylor focuses on the “one-pitch softball” mindset that the Valencia, Calif. native was taught when she arrived in Ann Arbor two years ago.
“The only pitch in the game that matters is the one you’re throwing right this moment.” Hutchins said. “Some people call it ‘being in the zone’. We call it ‘being in the moment.’ ”
But the philosophy didn’t help Taylor on Saturday morning either, as she lost her second game of the season to No. 15 Texas 5-2. She gave up four earned runs on five hits, but she also walked five batters and tossed nine illegal pitches.
Senior hurler Nikki Nemitz pitched a much cleaner game against DePaul that afternoon in a 3-1 victory in which she gave up four hits and two walks en route to her seventh win of the season.
Last season, a season in which the Wolverines fell a game short of a Women’s College World Series championship game, the team was 20-9 before it came home to Ann Arbor. The team returns to Alumni Field this Wednesday afternoon for its 2010 home opener with a winning percentage 12 points above that mark.