After completing a successful five-game homestand, the Michigan softball team will travel to Bloomington for three games against Indiana this weekend.
The Wolverines downed Penn State last weekend with a huge offensive performance, recording 29 runs off 36 hits. They also took down Bowling Green on Wednesday in a 12-run effort, punctuated by sophomore left fielder Nicole Sappingfield’s walk-off grand slam to end the game in six innings.
And the bats don’t seem to be cooling off anytime soon.
“I think we are playing with confidence, swinging with confidence,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Hopefully we’ll carry that with us on to Bloomington.”
No. 20 Michigan (3-0 Big Ten, 22-9 overall) takes on the Hoosiers (1-2, 16-15), who dropped two of three games in their conference-opening series with Ohio State last weekend.
Indiana boasts a roster full of offensive talent, but unlike Michigan, lacks a solid pitching staff. Both of the Hoosiers’ starters have an ERA over 4.00, and just like Penn State’s Lisa Akamine, they have struggled to control their releases.
Sophomore lefty Meaghan Murphy and freshman righty Lora Olsen have recorded over 50 strikeouts each, but both also have high walk totals — a good sign for the Wolverines, who have recently thrived with runners on base.
In its last series, Michigan tallied 26 RBIs and drew 20 walks, two stats that Hutchins was proud of after a mediocre offensive showing in nonconference play.
As the offense is producing to its potential, the Wolverine pitching has been consistent as well. Freshman lefty Haylie Wagner has been the go-to starter for Michigan, pitching 33 more innings and recording 29 more strikeouts than fellow freshman pitcher Sara Driesenga.
Though Driesenga has seen limited action in the circle, she’s produced on offense. The Hudsonville, Mich. native has been the designated player — similar to the designated hitter in baseball — in nine games this season and has put up a .391 average while batting in six runs. After the series against Penn State, Hutchins emphasized the importance of the bottom of the lineup producing offense, and Driesenga has been a key part of that.
The rest of the bottom of the lineup — freshman catcher Lauren Sweet, junior second baseman Amy Knapp and Sappingfield — has also stepped up. Sweet earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors this week after going 5-for-6 and drawing four walks against the Nittany Lions last week. Along with the consistent hitters, such as senior first baseman Amanda Chidester and senior center fielder Bree Evans, the Wolverines boast a strong lineup heading to Bloomington.
But Indiana has offensive threats, too. Sophomore left fielder Jenna Abraham’s .354 batting average and 22 runs leads the team, while redshirt senior Cassie Gogreve leads the team in RBIs with 19 and boasts a .319 average as the clean-up hitter.
Four other Hoosiers boast .300-plus averages and the senior leadership on the team has helped their offense over the course of the season.
Wagner and Driesenga, who have quickly gained confidence and poise in the circle, have done a good job against experienced batters and will again be faced with a challenging lineup.
But for Hutchins, it’s not the pitching that will be the key to a sweep of Indiana.
“Our team evolves, and I told them a few weeks ago that it’s about what we become and we’re becoming,” she said. “But we have a lot of games in front of us, and we still have to stay one-game and one-pitch focused.”