With reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year sophomore Haley Wagner healthy and back in the circle, the No. 14 Michigan softball team is looking for its first sweep of the season.
Through the first five weeks of the 2013 season, the Wolverines have won 17 of their 23 games, led by sophomore pitcher Sara Driesenga. The record includes three tournaments and two wins over ranked opponents – No. 12 Louisiana-Lafayette and No. 9 Texas A&M.
Despite finishing with a winning record in each tournament, Michigan has yet to complete a weekend sweep. Of the Wolverines’ six losses, four have come against ranked opponents, most recently 5-4 to No. 13 Louisville in the Red and Black Tournament. In losses to No. 10 Oregon and No. 11 LSU, the offense was outscored by a combined 17 runs in 13 innings.
The Wolverines will have their final opportunity to complete a tournament sweep this weekend at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. It will be the team’s final tournament appearance before returning to Wilpon Complex for the home opener on March 22.
Thus far, Michigan has showcased young talent and explosive bats with an offense led by freshman shortstop Sierra Romero. At times, hitting for the Wolverines has been contagious. A streaking offense has resulted in crushing innings – including a 13-run inning against Massachusetts – paired with streaks of silence in the batter’s box.
“It’s better than not scoring,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “But I’d like to see us consistently have good at-bats and focus on one pitch at a time.”
In the circle, Michigan had relied on strong pitching from Driesenga. The sophomore has stepped up to the task in style, completing her first career no-hitter and boasting a 1.52 ERA. But behind her, the defense has been error prone. The Wolverines have committed 12 errors against ranked teams, including six in the loss to Oregon.
“We need (players) to step up if they want to play,” Hutchins said. “We need good quality play when the opportunity comes.”
The timing of Wagner’s return could be just right – Michigan is set to face four ranked opponents in three days. The Wolverines will open play on Thursday with a doubleheader against No. 18 Washington and No. 21 Virginia Tech.
“The team is very excited (Wagner) is back pitching,” Hutchins said. “But the bottom line is we have to play good softball regardless of who’s pitching. With Haley back, we have more of a one-two punch.”
On Saturday, Michigan will play two games against two teams from the Arizona – No. 19 Arizona and No. 2 Arizona State. The Wolverines have won their last two meetings with Arizona in Fullerton.
Arizona State heads to California as the team to beat, as it boasts a 25-1 record. The Wolverines will look to Wagner to avenge lasts year’s one-run loss, which came in the very same tournament.
“We know we can achieve because we have in the past,” said senior outfielder and co-captain Jaclyn Crummey. “This is a new team, a new year, with new goals. We still haven’t achieved anything yet, so until that comes, then it will be on our list. We have the ability to be great.”