April 6, 2005
sports. michigandaily. com
PR i TSiTan a@
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By Kevin Wright
Daily Sports Writer
Feb. 19. The Michigan softball team
- trailing Florida Atlantic 1-0 heading
into the fourth inning - needed a spark.
Sophomore Rebekah Milian stepped up
to the plate with two outs and runners on
second and third. She laced a run-scor-
ing base hit to start a five-run rally and
launch Michigan to a 12-3 win.
A month and a day later, it was junior
Stephanie Bercaw's turn to spark the Wol-
verines. In the second inning against then-
No. 1 Arizona, Bercaw broke open the
scoring with a three-run homer. Michigan
went on to win 6-2.
While clutch hits might
warrant a starting position,
Bercaw and Milian rotate.......TO
because of the solid lineup ;
that No. 1 Michigan (3-1 MI4h>
Big Ten, 35-2 overall) brings C.tnt.1I
to every game. 2 p
When Milian starts, she The Softb
plays in leftfield, moving
senior Michelle Teschler to
rightfield. But when Bercaw
starts, she patrols rightfield and Teschler
stays in leftfield.
"In general, we pretty much rotated
them," Michigan coach Carol Hutchins
said. "There's been several games where
we felt one might hit pitching better than
With Bercaw and Milian, the Wolverines
get two contrasting styles of hitting.
Bercaw brings speed to the team and
causes havoc on the base paths. While
regulated to pinch running in her first
two seasons with the Wolverines, Ber-
caw has taken advantage of her chance
to play - even if it is on a rotated basis.
Already this season, she has smashed
two homers and is batting .339, well
above her career average of .200.
But after never starting a game in prior
Best team in the nation also
manages to have some fun
Junior Stephanie Bercaw earns congratulations after a home run against Illinois.
seasons, Bercaw has adjusted well to play-
ing in the field on a more consistent basis,
already starting 21 games this season.
"It's definitely exciting
to play in the field," Bercaw
AY said. "Playing in a game
is different than playing in
<< >< practice. We try to practice at
anhx game speed and game inten-
sity, but there's just something
Comp1kx different about games."
At the other end of the
spectrum, Milian started in
49 games and both of the
Women's College World Series games the
Wolverines played in last year. But this
season, she has started off slowly while
Bercaw's improvement has led Hutchins to
give both of them a chance to play.
When Milian - a slap-hitter - is up to
bat, her batting stance looks like the Seattle
Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki. As the pitcher
releases the ball to home plate, Milian
shuffles forward in the batter's box and tries
to "slap" it into the ground. Then, using her
speed and forward momentum, she can
reach first base faster than if she had stayed
back in the batter's box.
"My role when I'm up to bat is just to
make things happen and then try to beat out
the throw or advance the runners," Milian
said. "I'm pretty quick on the bases; I just
try to make things happen."
Milian has started the season batting
.213. She has started 18 games and is work-
ing on an improved approach to the plate.
"With my swing, I'm looking to
alter it," Milian said. "I was watch-
ing the Arizona slappers in the Cali-
fornia tournament, and I've been
working on running through the ball.
Before I was hitting and then running
- now I'm trying to stay through to
In the series last weekend against Iowa
and Illinois, Bercaw started all four games
and hit the ball well - connecting on a
wind-aided home run Sunday.
Although the rotation might have caused
a rift between two other players on a differ-
ent team, Bercaw and Milian take a positive
attitude to the diamond every game no mat-
ter who is starting that day.
"I always prepare like I'm going to play,
and I just keep a good attitude and stay posi-
tive," Milian said. "If I play, I play my best,
and, if I don't play, then I'll be fully behind
whoever's playing and be ready to go in and
pinch run or pinch hit."
According to Bercaw, the friendly com-
petition can only help them improve.
"We're all friends," Bercaw said. "We
compete to make each other better, but it's
not like we're not friends or buddies. It's more
of a'You push me and I'll push you and we'll
get better that way' kind of attitude."
W alk around the athletic campus, and, if you don't
know where Alumni Field is, you may never find
it. After all, it's practically hidden, boxed in by
Yost Ice Arena, The Fish and Oosterbaan Fieldhouse.
And that's too bad because the Michigan softball team
has already had a special year, and its home and conference
season has just begun.
First of all, the Wolverines
are currently ranked No. 1 in
the country. To understand
how remarkable that is, take a
look at their travel itinerary.
Michigan's season began in
Las Vegas on Feb. 12 (back
when those shorts you've
been wearing lately were SHARAD MATHTU
buried in your closet). In the Mattu fast, Mattu furious
following weeks it traveled
to Florida, Georgia, Florida
(again), California and Kentucky. During that stretch the
Wolverines played a total of 32 games and, after losing
the season opener, won 31 straight.
That takes us to last Monday, March the 28th, when they
practiced ... outdoors ... in Ann Arbor ... for the first time
Until then, the team had been practicing in Oosterbaan
Fieldhouse. While the players don't use it as an excuse
(about half the team is from the Midwest and doesn't know
any better), the white walls, artificial turf and fly-ball-inter-
rupting roof sure don't make things any easier.
Yet for nearly two months, Michigan criss-crossed the
country and beat teams that could roll out of bed on Christ-
mas and have a practice in the same weather that has us
"I'm not even sure what teams do outside all the time,"
said shortstop Jessica Merchant, who holds Michigan's
career home run record. "Practicing inside, we can't hit fly
balls or scrimmage or things like that. But we spend three
months working on fundamentals, and that seems to work."
Michigan's current No. 1 ranking and record (35-2 after
losing the home opener and then bouncing back to win the
next three) doesn't quite do justice to the team's dominance.
The Wolverines have outscored their opponents 221-42,
a ratio of over five to one. They have bashed 55 home runs,
which already sets a school record with 22 regular-season
games to go. They have three No. 1 pitchers in Nicole
Motycka, Jennie Ritter and Lorilyn Wilson, who have
struck out a combined 333 batters and have a collective
ERA of 0.86.
Coach Carol Hutchins has been winning here for over 20
years and recently became just the eighth coach in Division
I history to win 900 games.
Though winning certainly helps, the softball team - unlike
any other Michigan team I've seen - always seems to be
enjoying itself on the field. Whether it's Grace Leutele sheep-
ishly smiling after strong winds turned a sure flyout into a
double or Stephanie Bercaw literally skipping around the bases
after hitting a home run or the entire infield high-fiving at the
mound after each out, the players are always relaxed.
"That's always been a mark of a Michigan team,"
Hutchins said. "I think it helps us win - sometimes we win
because we have fun. I think it's important. It's when they
start to get uptight they struggle."
Unfortunately, not all the news is good. If you weren't at
last weekend's games, you may have missed your chance
to see the team play. The Wolverines don't play any more
home games until exam week, and, while they'll probably
host the Big Ten Tournament and an NCAA Regional, most
of the student body won't be around.
Don't worry, though, because the team has plenty of
support, whether it's from the players' families, the people
who are my grandparents' age (they come out in full force
for this team) or the families with young daughters. There's
even a pep band that makes appearances from time to time.
But now, if there's a national championship trophy in
Ann Arbor when you come back in the fall, you don't have
an excuse not to know.
Sharad Mattu can be reached at
smattu @ umich. edu.
Opening Day divides Blue
By Matt Singer
Daily Sports Writer
For any baseball fan, Opening Day
is one of the most eagerly anticipated
afternoons of the year. When the
teams trot onto the diamond to begin
The Tigers' 11-2 victory, in front of a
sold-out crowd, made for a spectacular
"I've been to a lot of games," Petry
said. "But it was the best atmosphere
I've seen in the new stadium. It was a
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their seasons, the slate
is clean, the outlook is
brilliant and every one
of the 30 Major League
Baseball franchises can
dream of taking home a
World Series title.
And although the
Michigan baseball team
has already played 23
games of its own, the
return of the boys of
summer is still cause for
A rt Midv igt >
Although Petry and
other Michigan natives
on the team root for
Detroit, not everyone
bleeds Tigers Blue and
Orange. Since the Wol-
verines roster features
players from all over
North America, the club-
house features sharply
Among the out-of-
towners is sophomore
"Opening Day is always special
for me," coach Rich Maloney said.
"My dad used to take me there, (to
Tiger Stadium). I remember watch-
ing Mark "The Bird" Fidrych with
50,000 screaming Tiger fans. As a
boy, my dad didn't tell me he had
tickets. He came, got me out of
school and took me over to the ball-
park. I was like a kid at the candy
store, saying 'Go, Bird, Go.' "
While Maloney waxed nostalgic
about his childhood Opening Day
experiences, some of his players
were creating memories of their own
this week. Redshirt freshman pitcher
Matt Petry - whose father earned
a World Series ring with the 1984
Tigers - made the trip downtown to
watch Detroit's opener on Monday.
outfielder Brad Roblin, the lone Mas-
sachusetts native on the team. Need-
less to say, he was disappointed with
the Red Sox' 9-2 opening-night drub-
bing at the hands of the Yankees.
"(Sunday night), we were on the
plane (coming back from Minnesota),"
Roblin said. "I called home and got a
message from my roommate who said
it was 1-0 Sox. He told me Manny had
beads in his hair, looking like an idiot.
So, I was thinking, all right, good
start. I get home, put on SportsCenter
and see nothing but Yankees knocking
the ball around Yankee Stadium."
While Roblin is the only one of
the Wolverines with a true Mas-
sachusetts upbringing, most of the
team rooted for Boston during its
miraculous World Series run.
"Everyone kind of jumped on the
Red Sox bandwagon last fall," Roblin
said. "You always got to root for the
His teammates admitted pulling
for the Red Sox but differed on their
motives for the decision.
"I liked to see the Red Sox break the
curse so I didn't have to listen to Rob-
lin whine all the time," junior pitcher
Derek Feldkamp said.
While the Curse of the Bambino
died last fall, the Chicago Cubs' World
Series drought lives on. Tigers fans
make up a majority of the Michigan
clubhouse, but Cubs fans are a vocal
"There's a lot of rivalries between
the guys from Detroit and the guys
from Chicago," Petry said. "We're
always talking about how the Cubs are
no good. They say how the Tigers are
Eternally optimistic, the Chicago
fans believe the Cubs' 16-6 opening
day win is a sign of things to come for
their beloved boys in blue.
"We're gonna win it all," redshirt
junior catcher and Oak Forest, Ill.,
native Jeff Kunkel said. "I've been
saying it since I was five."
Of course, the Wolverines still have
their own games to worry about -
they host Central Michigan today at 3
p.m. But when they return home after
the game, the players and coaches will
finally be able to flip on the TV and
watch curveballs, home runs and sto-
len bases flickering across the screen.
"I love having pro baseball back,"
Maloney said. "In fact, I'm going to
watch some tonight, guaranteed."