The No. 20 Michigan softball team has won nine of its last 10 games, and it isn’t because of increased offensive production, strong pitching or consistent defense.
The real culprit?
Michigan (8-1 Big Ten, 24-10 overall) has dominated its recent opponents, outscoring them 90-32 in the 10-game span. Though several factors have led to the strong performance, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins and senior first baseman Amanda Chidester recently hinted that they owe some motivation to their sweet tooths.
In a series against Indiana two weekends ago, the Wolverines came into the final game having split the first two games. Going into the seventh inning with a 7-2 lead, Michigan looked to hold on and close out the game and the series. Freshman left-hander Haylie Wagner’s first and second pitches were recorded as outs, and it was then that Hutchins decided to do something bold.
“I told the dugout, ‘If we get an out on three pitches, cupcakes for everybody,’ ” Hutchins said.
Sure enough, after the ball was hit to Chidester at first base and fielded for the final out, the dugout erupted.
“Nobody on the field knew what was going on, but the dugout went crazy because I’m not above bribing them,” Hutchins said.
But Hutchins didn’t stop there. In last weekend’s series against Ohio State, Hutchins treated her players by providing candy in the middle of an 11-4 victory.
“I think (by) about the fourth inning, I brought out Easter candy, trying to give (the girls) some juice to get them going,” Hutchins said.
The team often huddles together between innings to regroup and keep composure, but as Chidester noted, this instance was different because the girls were surprised to receive jelly beans.
“(Hutchins) was like, ‘Here, you guys need some more sugar. You need some energy,’ ” Chidester said. “So we got the candy to help with it. … It was like letting us loose a little bit and letting us laugh. I think it helped us a lot.”
After that inning, the Wolverines batted in another three runs to close the game out and finished with a 6-5 victory the next day.
Though the candy may not benefit the team physically, it is an example of helping the team mentally. Since the Big Ten implemented three-game series instead of double headers, (to help teams prepare for NCAA Regionals) the Wolverines have often returned home exhausted. The jelly beans help relieve the stress a long weekend poses.
But this recent attempt to use candy as motivation is nothing new to Hutchins and Michigan. When athletes trot around third base heading for home after a home run, Hutchins will toss her players a peanut M&M as a reward.
No, these aren’t Twix, and there’s no need to snicker, but come June, the Wolverines know where to look when they need a boost.