Although this weekend”s Fall Softball Tournament will never be counted in the official standings, don”t think for one minute that Michigan coach Carol Hutchins isn”t keeping a close eye on the action.

Paul Wong
This weekend, Marie Barda will pitch her first home game of the new season.<br><br>FILE PHOTO

“I think this tournament is really important for us or we wouldn”t have scheduled it,” Hutchins said. “It gives us a chance for our team to practice being competitive at a high level and gives our team a chance to see what our needs are.”

Michigan will host Eastern Michigan tomorrow morning, directly followed by a game against Florida State. The Wolverines will take on Central Michigan on Sunday.

Coming off a 43-17-1 season that saw the Wolverines turn a 2-5 start into a trip to the Women”s College World Series, Michigan is trying to find the new pieces of the puzzle this year as it participates in its second fall tournament in three weeks.

Michigan won all three of its games over the Sept. 22-23 weekend at the Elk Rapids Collegiate Softball Tournament before the championship game was rained out.

Because the Fall Softball Tournament doesn”t count as an official tournament, each game will be held to only one hour and 45 minutes. There won”t be a championship game, so the team with the best overall record in round-robin play will be the champion.

“The teams we play don”t really matter,” Hutchins said. “The tournament is all about us and how we play.”

Hutchins also said she will be making sure all of her players get as much playing time as possible.

“We are going to be rotating kids in and out more than we will in the regular season so we can give all the players a look,” she said. “We really want to make sure that we give the pitchers an opportunity to get in regardless of the score.”

One of those pitchers, junior Marissa Young, said the team is using the tournament as a learning experience more than anything else.

“I think the tournament is going to give us chance to see what we need to work on for the rest of the preseason,” the All-Big Ten second team honoree said. “The biggest thing is just to play as a team, use the experience to our advantage, and go all out.”

A few freshmen will get a chance to play their first competitive games at Alumni Field. Shortstop Jessica Merchant and pitcher Nicole Motycka are two newcomers who Hutchins said she will be watching.

“Merchant is getting a lot of time at shortstop and that”s a tough position to come into,” Hutchins said of the freshman, who is gunning for the spot vacated by the graduated Rebbeca Tune. “I like what I see in Motycka too. I haven”t had the chance to see a lot of her yet, but that”s really what these kind of games are for. This is their chance for them and all the players to get their feet wet.”

And that is exactly what the Michigan players want to do.

“Everybody needs to play,” Young said, “because it”s fall and it”s early and we still need to feel out what everyone has to offer.”

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