A national title isn’t the only thing the Michigan softball team has to defend this season. Last year’s regular-season play also set a standard worth living up to. The Wolverines racked up 65 wins, with 15 against Big Ten teams, en route to the 2005 national championship.
While the chance to repeat last year’s impressive 65-7 overall record is long gone, No. 12 Michigan (18-9) still has a crack at duplicating or improving 2005’s two-loss Big Ten season.
That quest starts Sunday, when the 12th-ranked Wolverines take on Minnesota in a doubleheader at Alumni Field.
“The good news, with Big Tens starting, we can start over with all of our statistics,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
The statistic that worries Hutchins most is the team’s .266 batting average.
“All of these kids in that lineup can hit much better than anybody has seen this whole year,” Hutchins said.
Last year Michigan had a .320 average heading into the Big Ten season.
Part of what made the 2005 regular season so special was the record-breaking 32-game winning streak that helped the Wolverines tear through the non-conference schedule.
What ended that streak?
The Big Ten opener against then-No. 24 Iowa.
The 2005 Wolverines, ranked first at the time, dropped a 5-2 decision after a Hawkeye hitting frenzy.
“Last year in our home opener, I didn’t do so well,” junior pitcher Lorilyn Wilson said.
Wilson allowed five hits in one and two-thirds innings and was pulled shortly into the game.
But now it’s 2006, and things are different.
This year, Wilson has found her stride just in time for the Big Ten season. Riding a 24 and one third inning shutout streak, Wilson was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week and pitched a no-hitter with just one walk last weekend at the Louisville Classic.
This year, Michigan already has one home victory under its belt. The Wolverines defeated Bowling Green 3-0 on Tuesday with back-to-back home runs from sophomore Samantha Findlay and senior Becky Marx.
This year, instead of starting the conference season against the then 28-4 Hawkeyes, Michigan will match up with the 11-14 Golden Gophers. Minnesota returns just five starters from last year’s squad – a team that Michigan trounced in a doubleheader sweep in Minneapolis.
Current senior Jennie Ritter struck out 14 Gophers for a 4-0 decision in the first game. Wilson continued the shutout in the second game, where the Wolverine bats started blazing for an 11-0 win.
Even with Ritter and Wilson ready to fire against this year’s Minnesota offense, it’s apparent that the 2006 Wolverines are not the team that defeated UCLA in the Women’s College World Series last season. Nine non-conference losses, most coming against ranked opponents, exposed some weaknesses.
But after working out some kinks, Michigan now has a five-game winning streak and the power of momentum.
“We’re looking forward to the Big Ten,” Findlay said. “We’re peaking at the right time.”