“There”s a little softball etiquette that we all need to learn. In the middle of the game, when it”s a no-hitter, nobody says, “hey, it”s a no-hitter.” You don”t talk about a streak when you”re on it,” Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins said when asked about the Wolverines” current nine-game winning streak. “Softball superstition is huge.”
With apologies to Hutchins, the Wolverines” streak is newsworthy not because of the number of games they have won, but because of the way they have won them.
In nine games, the Wolverines have outscored their opponents 53-12 while collecting 88 hits. Michigan scored only 78 runs in its first 24 games.
After an embarrassing tie against Western Michigan and then two disappointing losses against then-No. 10 DePaul, the Wolverines found themselves at 12-11-1 entering Big Ten play.
While only the team and coach Hutchins know what was said on the bus ride from Chicago to Champaign, something sparked the Wolverines before last Saturday”s game against Illinois.
Michigan dominated that game, evoking the mercy rule in a 10-2 victory. The next afternoon, it came back and won a close game, 2-0, and the streak had begun.
While Hutchins would likely point to the increased confidence of her team, one of the biggest reasons for the Wolverines” turn-around has been the lineup change that the coaching staff decided on before the Illinois game.
Stefanie Volpe, who had been the DH for most of the season, was moved to third base and freshman Monica Schock was inserted as the new DH.
Schock, a left-handed hitter, was placed in the fourth position in the order, creating a stretch of five consecutive left-handed Wolverines Meghan Doe, Kelsey Kollen, Melissa Taylor, Volpe and then Schock.
Melinda Moulden, Michigan”s power threat, was moved to the fifth slot.
“It”s tough for any pitcher to face five lefties in a row. We switched it like that last week in Illinois,” Hutchins said. “It puts Moulden in the biggest RBI slot of all, and she”s been our best RBI hitter. And it”s worked pretty well.”
The increased offense has lightened some of the load for the Michigan pitching staff, which currently consists of only two regular pitchers. Marissa Young and Marie Barda, who have been tough all year, no longer have the pressure of holding the opposition to one or two runs every game.
One of the reasons for the increased success at the plate has been a more aggressive approach, especially by Doe, Kollen and Taylor “The three stooges” according to Hutchins.
The “Stooges” had been prone to bunting or slapping at each at-bat, but now they are swinging away more often, keeping the defense on its heels. During the streak, Kollen has turned herself into a legitimate RBI threat, and Taylor had a rare triple against Bowling Green.
Volpe, who might be the Wolverines” best all-around hitter, has become more patient at the plate and has been a threat to start rallies and drive in runs.
Hutchins still dismisses the idea that her team is playing up to its potential.
“We”re still a work in progress but I”m really pleased and I think we”ve gotten better every week, and that”s important right now,” Hutchins said. “A good time to get going and playing good ball is in April.”
The Wolverines” schedule has also played a part in the team”s recent success. Early in the season, Michigan found itself taking the field against a ranked team on 10 occasions games that prepared the Wolverines for the grind of the Big Ten schedule.
“We had a really tough preseason and now it is starting to pay off,” senior Rebecca Tune said. “We”re playing well, we are coming together as a team, and more than anything, now that we are winning and putting everything together, we have confidence in ourselves and each other.”
Carol Hutchins would dismiss her role in her team”s streak, but the Wolverines would not be where they are today 21-11-1 and leading the Big Ten without her coaching moves and her desire to play the best competition early in the season.