Last season, the Michigan softball team lost just seven games.
This weekend at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., the 2006 squad lost nearly half of that total. The Wolverines dropped three games and managed just two wins.
Michigan went to California with a number of gaps in its lineup. Fixing those breaks, or failing to do so, was the difference between wins and losses at the Titan Softball Complex on the Cal. State Fullerton campus.
Michigan’s most glaring hole was at the designated-player position. In the Wolverines’ first 17 games, they lacked production from their designated player.
“We’re looking for a consistent designated player,” senior pitcher Jennie Ritter said. “We’ve had some people have a few solid games, but there are a lot of people who want that spot. I’m excited to see who steps up to take it.”
With her effort this weekend, sophomore catcher Tiffany Worthy might have done just that.
Playing less than 10 miles from her hometown, the Yorba Linda, Calif. native hit the game-winning home run against No. 2 Texas on Friday. Not only did the bomb come with two outs in the top of the seventh inning and snap Worthy’s 0-for-18 slump at the plate, but she also hit it off one of the top pitchers in the country, Cat Osterman.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins rewarded Worthy for her heroics by writing her in as the designated player on the lineup card for Saturday’s game against Florida State, a team Michigan beat twice earlier in the season. Against the Seminoles, Hutchins’s decision to give Worthy extra at bats proved to be a wise one. The sophomore went 1-for-3 and had four RBI in the 11-3 Michigan (13-9) victory.
“(Worthy) is going to have the opportunity to take control of the designated player position,” Hutchins said.
Another question mark for the Wolverines has been the second pitcher spot.
As a sophomore last season, Lorilyn Wilson went 22-2 with a 1.05 ERA while pitching the games that No. 1 pitcher Jennie Ritter took off. But Wilson has struggled thus far this season, and the pattern held in Michigan’s 7-5 loss to Washington. Wilson gave up nine hits and seven runs in three and two-thirds innings before being replaced by freshman Stacy Delaney, who pitched two and a third scoreless innings to finish the game.
Wilson pitched solidly in her other tournament appearance, a 3-2 loss to Utah on Sunday. Before being relieved by Ritter, the Salem, Ore. native shut out the Utes in four and one-third innings in the circle.
“(Wilson) knows what she needs to do,” Ritter said. “We’ve had some talks with her, and we are all confident that she can pitch great. Now, all she needs to do is get that confidence in herself.”
The difference between wins and losses this weekend boiled down to clutch hitting. In its three losses, Michigan (12-9) left 28 runners on base. In their two victories, the Wolverines just stranded eight teammates.
“It’s a fact: When we hit in the clutch we win, when we don’t we lose,” Hutchins said.
Going into the trip to California, Michigan was hitting .312 with runners in scoring position. But in its losses, Michigan’s stats fell well short of the mark.
In Michigan’s 3-2, extra-inning loss to an undefeated Louisiana-Lafayette team on Thursday night, the Wolverines hit just 2-for-15 (.133) with runners in scoring position.
“We’re getting runners on base,” Ritter said. “It’s starting to come together. Hopefully, we can figure it out in the next few days of practice.”