Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has told her team time and time again to play one-pitch softball — not to look ahead or look at the past, just to focus on the next pitch thrown.
Those single pitches will mean a lot more as the fifth-seeded Wolverines head to Oklahoma City to take on Alabama in the first round of the Women’s College World Series.
The Crimson Tide is the No. 4 seed and, like Michigan, swept through their Regional and Super Regional matchups. All time, the Wolverines hold a 4-3 record over Alabama, but Michigan lost 3-2 in their last meeting in 2006.
If Michigan wants to advance past Alabama it will have to do three things:
Get production out of the bottom of the order: They just need to get a hit — any hit. Alabama’s ace sophomore Kelsi Dunne, didn’t allow a hit in either of the Crimson Tide’s 9-0 victories over Jacksonville State in the Super Regionals.
After they grab that hit, the Wolverines will need the bottom of the order to step up. The 7-8-9 hitters (Dorian Shaw, Stephanie Kirkpatrick, and Teddi Ewing, respectively) got the offense started in both of Michigan’s Super Regional wins last weekend.
Shaw, a sophomore first baseman, had three home runs to break open the first game. Ewing, one of two seniors on the team, went 3-for-6 on the weekend, notching a leadoff hit in both the third and fourth innings of Saturday’s game. Those hits sparked rallies that resulted in seven total runs.
Kirkpatrick hit leadoff during the second half of the year, but after falling into a slump, she was dropped to eighth in the order. Before a single in game two against Baylor, Kirkpatrick’s last 15 trips to the plate went without hitting a single pitch. If Michigan is going to get deep in this tournament, then it needs the bottom of the order to once again be relevant.
Have a chance going into the sixth inning: If it is close heading into the sixth, Michigan has to like its chances. The Wolverines have outscored opponents 81-13 in the final two innings this season. In the postseason they haven’t given up a run in the sixth or the seventh — outscoring their opposition 11-0 during their five playoff games.
They are also 32-0 when leading heading into the sixth inning this season. The only time they were trailing going into the sixth in the postseason was in regional play against Notre Dame. They scored two runs in the bottom seventh to win in walk-off fashion. Michigan fans shouldn’t give up hope if they trail late.
Leave their nerves in Ann Arbor: Michigan has only three people who have been to the World Series before, all three of whom are on the coaching staff.
With only one senior in the starting lineup and no Women’s College World Series experience on the field, Michigan will need to overcome that lack of experience against a Crimson Tide squad that was in the same position last year. But all season long the Wolverines have overcome a lack of experience, starting five underclassmen.
Hutchins has preached her philosophy of one-pitch softball all season.
Hopefully the choir has been listening.