The reigning Big Ten Pitcher and Freshman of the Year is finally back.
On Wednesday, sophomore Haylie Wagner stepped into the circle for the first time this season and stared down Central Florida’s leadoff batter. She started her season — 19 games late due to injury — with an eight-pitch battle that ended in a walk. She went on to throw eight innings in two games before throwing her first complete game against Illinois State. Wagner came away with three wins in her three appearances, proving that despite starting her season late, she’s ready to help the team.
“It felt really good hearing my name and hearing that I would be starting,” Wagner said. “Just knowing that I’ve gotten back to the place I want to be and to be pitching — that’s what I love to do.”
In her first two starts, against the Knights and Miami, Wagner threw four strikeouts while allowing just four hits, two walks and surrendering only one earned run off a home run. She looked her best during the third inning against the Hurricanes, when she forced three straight batters into groundouts on just four pitches.
Against the Redbirds, Wagner pitched a full game, highlighted by a streak of 13 straight retired batters. She finished the game with seven strikeouts and three walks. The only hit she allowed was a solo home run in the third inning.
“We are going to have to ease (Wagner) into some innings,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Whatever innings she gets, she has to help us win.
“She has to get into the rhythm and the flow of the season. It’s hard to do that when you’re dropped in the middle of it, but she’s going to get there.”
Wagner was named to the 2013 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year preseason watch list after her impressive freshman season. She’s one of just eight other sophomores on that list. Last year, she set a Wolverine single-season record with 50 appearances, including 28 complete games. She currently sits third in Michigan history with an .821 winning percentage.
With sophomore Sara Driesenga getting a lot of work earlier this season in Wagner’s absence, Michigan has the benefit of two quality pitchers, something the program has consistently had over the years.
Driesenga acted as a reliever twice for Wagner over the weekend, coming in to help the Wolverines finish with wins in both contests. She has proven so far this season that she’ll be a useful compliment to Wagner as both a reliever and a fellow starting pitcher. This should help keep the pressure off Wagner, knowing that she has another pitcher to help her out.
“To rely on one pitcher is not a situation I ever want to be in,” Hutchins said. “So I’m all for having a 1-A and 1-A. We would have a deuce, not an ace. That’s what I like to say.”