LOUISVILLE, Kent. — The Michigan softball team is full of talent, but coach Carol Hutchins doesn’t think it’s playing up to it.
It isn’t because of the Wolverines’ struggles on offense, their defensive errors or their inexperienced pitching staff.
It’s because of a lack of confidence, according to Hutchins.
“I told the kids that, clearly, we are a team without confidence, and that is on me,” Hutchins said.
Traveling to its fifth road tournament — this time to Louisville for the Red and Black Tournament — Michigan came away with a disappointing 1-2 record. The 14th-ranked Wolverines began with a close 2-1 loss to No. 16 Louisville, followed with a comeback 6-3 victory over Saint Louis and ended with a 5-1 loss to Illinois State.
Michigan couldn’t get a spark in either of its two losses and never had an opportunity to string together momentum. The Wolverines didn’t have anyone to look to in their last game against Illinois State, as Redbirds pitcher Jordan Birch owned the strike zone. No matter how many times Michigan fouled off a ball to stay alive, or how many times they watched a ball go by, the Wolverines walked back to the dugout time after time.
Not senior leadership, cheers from the dugout nor pep talks between innings could save Michigan.
Against Louisville, the Wolverines showed indications that they could top the undefeated Cardinals, but when it came down to key opportunities, they failed. Michigan left seven runners stranded on base and couldn’t capitalize during key moments.
“We’re definitely not on all cylinders,” Hutchins said. “We’re not on any cylinders.”
With a 16-7 overall record, some would say that Michigan is still in good shape. In fact, the team has beat four ranked opponents already, including UCLA and Auburn.
Down one run in the third inning against Louisville, senior first baseman Amanda Chidester came to the plate with the bases loaded, hoping to provide something to help her team out. Having seen these situations before, Michigan knew its best chance was Chidester, holding her bat and waiting for the perfect pitch. She hit a solid ball, but it was caught near the wall.
But Chidester provided solid leadership. Though she left five runners on base, her hit was 10 feet short of changing the game in favor of the Wolverines completely.
“I’ve got to find a way to bring their confidence back so they can believe in themselves as hitters and as pitchers,” said Hutchins, who sets lofty expectations every year.
She expected to win a Big Ten title and compete for a national championship, but she has changed her tone since the beginning of the season.
“We practice well, we’re not competing well,” Hutchins said. “We need to take what we do in practice … and maintain our process.”
Hutchins maintains that Michigan has the skills it takes to be a competitor for the College World Series, but it needs to focus on having quality at-bats, one pitch at a time.
The Wolverines showed that they have a promising pitcher in freshman Haylie Wagner, who has a 1.34 ERA; power hitter in junior Ashley Lane, who crushed a home run against Illinois State on Sunday; and strong leaders in senior center fielder Bree Evans and Chidester, who despite an occasional struggle, held their team together.
Hutchins doesn’t need to call out the team just yet. With three ranked teams coming up on the schedule, the Wolverines have a chance to prove to their coach that they believe in themselves.