Lunch-money holders beware.
The No. 2 Michigan softball team certainly has the look of a classic schoolyard bully. Or so it would appear against the likes of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Eastern Michigan.
These matchups, as well as most of the other games they’ve played in the last month and a half, have been nothing short of recess massacres — round them up, hold them by their ankles and shake all the loose change out of their pockets.
Since the start of the Big Ten season on Mar. 27, the Wolverines have ended 11 of their last 20 contests before the seventh inning due to college softball’s eight-run mercy rule. As part of that stretch, Michigan defeated nine of 11 opponents in similar fashion.
With that dominance, it’s hard to find a statistic in which the Wolverines aren’t atop the conference, even more impressive considering the mercy rule has shaved multiple innings off of more than half of Michigan’s Big Ten games.
But like most bullies, that aggression is the result of some insecurity within.
In the two toughest series the Wolverines have played since the start of the conference season, against Ohio State and non-conference foe Kentucky, some old weaknesses have reared their ugly heads.
Most notably, Michigan showed some inconsistency at the plate. In their first Big Ten loss of the season against Ohio State, the Wolverines were unable to muster more than three runs. And in both games against the Wildcats, Michigan required a late-inning surge at the plate to put down a middling Southeastern Conference team.
Admittedly, it would’ve been unfair to expect the Wolverines to beat up both teams like they had for so many weeks before that.
Or would it?
The Buckeyes and Wildcats definitely aren’t pushovers, but they aren’t exactly dominating their respective conferences like Michigan has.
“We’ve had a lot of five-inning games and that’s not what the postseason is going to look like,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said after the first game against Kentucky. “For the last couple of games, Ohio State and Kentucky, we’ve looked like we think it’s supposed to be easy. We need to get over the hype, the media and how good we are because you’re only as good as how hard you work in the moment.”
But that begs the question — what happens when the Wolverines go up against someone their own size?
Michigan had a few tastes of that in the very early part of the season. And the Wolverines came through for the most part, beating four teams currently ranked in the nation’s top 11 and two currently ranked in the top five.
So it’s obvious Michigan is capable — it just hasn’t had to in a long, long while.