If Michigan coach Carol Hutchins was worried about her young pitching squad before this weekend, she can stop now.
The No. 11 Michigan softball team won four of five games over the weekend at the FAU Kickoff Classic in Boca Raton, Fla., including one over nonconference rival Kentucky — the team that knocked off the Wolverines in Ann Arbor during the Super 16 round of the NCAA Tournament last season.
Many questioned whether the Wolverines could handle the stronger teams from the south and west, and this weekend was a chance to prove that they could.
Freshman pitcher Haylie Wagner led the way for the Wolverines, improving her record to 4-0. The standout rookie threw her second and third complete games and held No. 22 Kentucky scoreless.
“I just pitch and let my defense work,” Wagner said. “I trust them to be there for me and I know that they have my back.”
Wagner didn’t seem fazed heading into the matchup against Kentucky. Despite seeing her defense struggle early in the weekend, the youngster didn’t feel pressure.
“I went into it just like it was another game,” Wagner said “It’s just a game where I’m going to compete.”
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins was quick to credit her young pitcher.
“I thought Haylie had an outstanding game,” Hutchins said. “She worked the count well and the defense stepped up behind her.”
Even more impressive was the Wolverines’ ability to bounce back from a tough loss to Maryland early in the tournament.
Michigan never found its groove in that match, committing six errors that allowed the opposition to get into scoring position. Freshman pitcher Sarah Driesenga took the loss on the mound against the Terrapins, but Hutchins said the loss was the result of the entire team’s poor play.
“I thought everything went wrong,” Hutchins said. “We couldn’t hit, our pitching had a rough day, and our fielding was horrendous.”
“It was just one of those games where nothing goes your way,” added senior third baseman Amanda Chidester. “We definitely have a lot of work, as every team does, but it has to be up to us to play for Michigan and fight hard for our team.”
A loss now is better than late in the season for the Wolverines, when momentum is crucial to putting together a run in the postseason.
Hutchins was happy with the team’s response to the loss Friday, though.
“I thought we owned it, took ownership of it, and then put it behind us,” Hutchins said.
After losing to Maryland on Friday, Michigan strung together four shutouts against Long Island, Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Wright State.
Despite the lack of power hitting, the Wolverines handled each team with ease. Michigan tallied only one home run and one double in the five games. In last weekend’s tournament, the Wolverines hit four home runs in four games.
But home runs aren’t necessary when you post four straight shutouts.
“I am not really big on the shutout, but it is a great way to beat someone,” Hutchins said. “Shutouts are a team effort. We have a versatile pitching staff this year. They are each focused on pitching one inning at a time right now.”
Chidester said that piecing together wins like the team has been is simple, as long as Michigan keeps it simple.
“You play your position and you do your part at your position,” Chidester said. “When you try to do more, mistakes happen.”