It’s been nine days since the Michigan softball team has taken the field to compete, but tonight in Madison is no time for the Wolverines to come out rusty.
“This weekend for us is particularly important,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “They all are, but this one is particularly important. I expect once we get out there, our enthusiasm will be high.”
After being forced to cancel two Big Ten games against Iowa last weekend, No. 15 Michigan (3-1 Big Ten, 21-8 overall) needs to take advantage of all the conference matchups it has left, beginning with games against Wisconsin tonight under the lights and tomorrow followed by a doubleheader in Minnesota on Sunday.
Wisconsin (2-4, 13-16) might appear to be an easy ‘W’ for Michigan on paper – the Badgers are hitting a mere .199 as a team. But Wisconsin’s pitching, not hitting, will be its best chance to win this weekend. Badgers senior Andrea Kirchberg has been solid on the mound, striking out 210 batters in her 149 innings this season en route to an 11-11 record.
Wisconsin beat two top-25 teams earlier this season (then-No. 15 Fresno State and then-No. 23 Oregon State) and will look to add to that total today.
Minnesota (4-2, 27-11-1) has fared better than Wisconsin so far this season, winning four straight Big Ten games and sitting one spot behind Michigan at No. 4 in the conference standings. The Golden Gophers’ only conference losses came to the Big Ten-leading Hawkeyes, who Michigan has yet to play.
Minnesota is led at the plate by senior Jordanne Nygren, who is hitting .379 on the season with 10 homeruns and 32 RBIs. The Gopher pitching staff has also been solid with a combined 1.47 ERA.
Hutchins knows her team will have to give its best to compensate for being on the road.
“Both those teams have great pitching, and you’re playing at their place, so our pitching needs to keep us in the game until we can get some offense going.” Hutchins said. “You expect (the opponent) to be able to contain your offense somewhat, you need to contain theirs first with pitching and defense.”
For Michigan, catcher Monica Schock will look to extend her 11-game hitting streak in today’s action. Over the course of the streak, Schock has raised her season average to .354, good enough for 10th in the Big Ten.
Michigan third baseman Grace Leutele has also been scorching the ball lately. The freshman is hitting .600 on the season (6-for-10) with three homeruns – including a game-tying two run shot against Northwestern in extra innings on March 30 and two dingers in one game against Western Michigan two days later.