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March 23, 2010 - Image 8

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8 - Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

8 - Tuesday, March 23, 2010 The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom I

STAFF PICKS
The Daily softball beat makes
its predictions for the season
Casandra Luke Alex
Pagni Pasch Hermann
Michigan overall record 42-10 43-9 43-9
Michigan Big Ten record 14-5 15-4 16-3
Michigan MVP Nemitz Taylor Taylor
.9 &Mchiansupiseplaye Bashe Bashe Kikatick
Big Ten Regular Season Charpion Michigan illinois Michigan
Big Ten Regular Season Runner-Up llinois Michigan Ohio State
Big Ten Tournaent Champion Michigan Michigan Michigan
Big Ten MVP Taylor Taylor Taylor
Big Ten surprise team enn State Illinois Ohio State
Dominant pitching duo
is key to Blue's success
ByLUKE PASCH in Ann Arbor three years ago - recently decided to strict
Daily Sports Writer "one-pitch softball." enforce the "crow-hop rule,
"It provides the basics for which says that the pitcher'

6
I
I

I

ly
s

Expectations sky
high forMcia

With Big Ten season
approaching, 'M' hopes
to avenge WCWS
disappointment
By ALEX HERMANN
Daily Sports Writer
As the most recent Michigan
sports team to have won an NCAA
national championship - now
almost five years ago - the Michi-
gan softball team knows all about
high expectations.
In 2005, an extra-innings home
run blast gave the Wolverines their
first-ever softball championship,
catapulting the program onto the
national scene as the first team
east of the Mississippi River to win
the Women's College World Series.
Since then, Michigan has fielded
three Big Ten championship teams
and advanced to at least the NCAA
Super Regionals every year. Last
season, the Wolverines made their
first trip back to Oklahoma City
since their NCAA championship,
but ultimately couldn't repeat their
miraculous performance from four
years before.
With essentially the entire ros-
ter back from ayear ago and anum-
ber of experienced players, this
may be the program's best chance
to return to glory.
And nobody has made that
expectation clearer than the Mich-
igan players themselves.
"Our team is on a mission,"

sophomore outfielder Bree Evans
said. "We want to win it this year
and we know that we're capable of
winning it. We're going to do any-
thing we can to win the national
championship this year."
It's a team that has all the tools.
With veteran leadership, a certain
amount of experience and arguably
the best pitching duo in the nation,
the fourth-ranked Wolverines are
expected to do damage this year,
in the conference and in the nation.
Already, Michigan has shown its
talnet level on the national stage.
Heading into Wednesday's home
opener against Bowling Green, the
Wolverines (22-5) have won 13 of
their last 14 games including wins
against some of the top teams in
the nation.
Currently, Michigan's top five
players in the lineup are all bat-
ting above .300, and all nine play-
ers were regulars in the lineup a
year ago, including four first team
All-Big Ten hitters and one second
teamer.
"We obviously have big goals
in mind," senior pitcher Nikki
Nemitz said. "We just want to fight
and battle every game. We have
a lot of senior experience, and I
think that's going to help us."
With six seniors and 12 upper-
classmen total, the Wolverines'
veteran leadership has already
manifested itself in positive ways.
Michigan has already found
itself in four extra-innings games
this year. The Wolverines have
managed to win three of those
games, including against No. 2

Arizona last weekend and against
then-No. 8 UCLA more than a
month ago. Against the Wildcats,
senior centerfielder Molly Bausher
drove in the team's lone run in the
eight inning to propel the team to
victory.
But as many teams before them
have abruptly discovered, expec-
tations, past accolades and even
senior leadership don't necessar-
ily translate to victories in early
June.
Michigan has had difficulties
at the plate in the early season
against some of the better teams
they've played. In their five losses,
the Wolverines have averaged less
than three runs per game. Clearly,
Michigan's pitching won't always
be able to carry the team to victo-
ry, and at crucial points down the
stretch the team's bats will have
to be ready to step up.
For now, in order to keep their
eyes on the ultimate prize, the
Wolverines simply have to focus on
themselves.
"We're not focused on the other
team, we don't care about the
other team," Michigan coach Carol
Hutchins said. "We're all about
playing Michigan softball."
And though the Michigan soft-
ball program may still be defined
by what happened five years ago,
when Samantha Findlay blasted a
home run over the leftfield fence
to secure the program's first
national championship, the cur-
rent team now looks to expand on
that legacy - complete with its
own chapter.

For as long as there have been
baseball and softball diamonds,
pitchers have ruled.
It's a concept that's lived on
through the timeless phrase,
"Pitching wins championships."
But average spectators may not
enjoy sitting through low-scoring
games. It's for this reason that the
most glamorous jobs in baseball
and softball tend to be associ-
ated with the big-bopping corner
infielders and outfielders (with
some exceptions - see Jennie
Finch).
Then again, those same fans
who love scoring would be just as
thrilled to see their team play in
the Women's College World Series
in Oklahoma City this June.
Michigan coach Carol
Hutchins knows a thing or two
about grooming a pitching staff
for the WCWS. In 2005, she
imparted her "orie-pitch softball"
philosophy on then-Wolverine
starter Jennie Ritter en route to
the program's first NCAA cham-
pionship. Sports Illustrated later
named Ritter the ninth-best
Michigan athlete of all-time for
her integral role in the team's suc-
cess.
But that was then. Here's an in-
depth look at the Wolverines' set
of dominant pitchers in 2010:
NIKKI NEMITZ, SENIOR, LHP
College softball coaches natu-
rally look for their players to
progress each spring and off-
season. But this lefty will have a
tough time eclipsing the numbers
she put up in her 2009 campaign.
Nemitz finished with career
highs in most major pitching cat-
egories - wins (28), strikeouts
(306) and opponents' batting
average (.150). Surprisingly, her
formidable 1.07 ERA was a three-
point downgrade from her sopho-
more season.
She attributes those results to
the pitching mantra that's gov-
erned her play since she arrived

everything that we try to do,"
Nemitz said. "If you're thinking
about a pitch that abatter crushed
in the last at-bat, then the results
will never show up. You have to
focus on the moment - on what
you can control."
And Nemitz shouldn't have to
focus on too much else - she has
just four pitches in her repertoire:
curveball, screwball, changeup
and rise ball. Instead of over-
whelming hitters with a variety
of pitches, as many of the best
pitchers do, she relies on superb
command and an excellent veloc-
ity drop-off on her changeup.
That formula has been notice-
ably effective, since an offense
that only needs to cross the plate
a couple of times in seven innings
is a happy offense.
JORDAN TAYLOR, JUNIOR,
RHP
Taylor possesses one of the
nation's filthiest curveballs. And
she isn't particularly modest
about it either.
"The curveball was working
really well today, which is pretty
normal," she said after a com-
plete-game shutout over Mary-
land last month. "My curveball is
usually very effective."
Then again, a pitcher who can
toss a one-hit shutout against No.
2 Arizona's lineup, which show-
cases three .420-plus hitters,
doesn't really need to be modest.
Taylor has surpassed expecta-
tions thus far in her junior cam-
paign. And should she keep up
her current pace, her end-of-
May numbers when the WCWS
approaches will rival those of Rit-
ter's 2005 record-breaking statis-
tics - 280-plus innings pitched,
35-or-more wins and 450 strike-
outs.
But there is one issue that can
prevent Taylor from reaching
those lofty goals.
It seems superficially incon-
sequential, but the NCAA has

back foot must stay on the
ground dragging during the
pitching motion. Pitchers are
barred from lifting their foot
and replanting it back on the
ground to push off of.
Unfortunately for Taylor, the
rule isn't particularly conducive
to her style of pitching, and the
rest of her season's success may
rely on a combination of leni-
ency from the umps and a slight
revamp of her pitching motion.
Last weekend alone she threw
12 illegal pitches, the penalty for
which is a free base for all base
runners, and she was handed her
second loss of the season.
"I've been pitching like this
since I was 16 years old," Taylor
said. "It's not quick mid-week fix,
let alone a mid-season fix."
Regardless, Taylor will con-
tinue to keep hitters on their
toes, as the rule change doesn't
detract from her six-pitch arse-
nal. She throws a curveball, chan-
geup, back-door curve, rise ball,
drop ball and screwball, all of
which hold their own against the
nation's best.
THE BALANCE
Michigan's pitching duo is
uniquely dynamic. Not only are
Nemitz and Taylor premiere
pitchers in the Big Ten and
NCAA, but they also complement
each other in an unprecedented,
even eerie, manner.
That can be the difference-
maker between the Wolverines
and other elite pitching staffs.
They pitch from different sides
of the mound. They have differ-
ent release styles and heights.
one relies on control pitching,
and the other on breaking move-
ment.
They have different looks for
different opposing offenses.
"There's no number one pitch-
er. We have two All-American
pitchers," Hutchins said. "And
that's our greatest strength."

Tana' 2 CSlT tV0&
15 vt
2 dtma F
7 qqr y
j N± Nern l p
TEAM LEADERS
Batting Average
Evans ................355
Viefhaus .............333

Shaw's leadership, i

ower valuable for Wolverines

By CASANDRA PAGNI
Daily Sports Writer
Teams have toyed with various
methods to slow down the power
of junior slugger Dorian Shaw.
They've pitched around her.
They've pitched her inside.
They've pitched aggressively.
Either way, Shaw finds a way to
touch the bases.
Twenty-seven games into the
season, Shaw has already ham-
mered out 10 home runs. Boast-
ing the team's highest slugging
percentage at .784 and leading the
team in walks (16), the first base-
man is certainly a Wolverine to
watch out for this season.
An immediate contributor to
the team, Shaw has started at
first base since she arrived in Ann
Arbor and now has 131 games
under her belt.
From the early-season five-
game tournaments to the difficult
conference schedule ahead, the
physical game can wear on any-
one. But over the past three years,
Shaw has learned the importance
of the mental game, regardless of
what happens on the diamond.
"My freshman year, I was mak-
ing so much out of 'I'm supposed
to be doing this' and 'I'm sup-
posed to be doing that,' " Shaw
said. "I was doing more thinking
than playing. One thing that I've
learned is controlling my emo-
tions and controlling my mind
while I'm on the field. That's
something that I had never been
taught before, until I got here.
"When you get here, everybody
on the team is good, everybody
can play and everybody can do

the physical things.
It's the mental game
thattputs you above,
because you have
to have the mental-
toughness and abil-
ity to bounce back
because there is so
much failure."
Now anupperclass-
man, the slugger has
proven herself to her
team and coaches. As
a natural leader, Shaw
embraces the fact
that her teammates
turn to her when they
need advice, encour-
agement or a differ-
ent perspective. On a
team with six seniors,
Shaw feels comfort-
able relating to both
the younger and older
Wolverines.
"At this level,
sometimes you might
just need a little reas-
surance when you're
not having a great
day," Shaw said. "I
can go to a freshman
and be like 'Hey, you Jno o~
belong here, you ca Junior Dori
play with us. You're
just as good as anybody else out
here.' More than anything, the
experience of going through the
ups and downs of the game is
what is going to help us. We all
know what it feels like to have a
crappy day or a really good day but
(we don't) get too high or low on
ourselves."
Though the most consistent
Michigan unit this season has

4

4

RBI
Findla .....
Shaw .. . ... . ... . ..

28
27

ARIEL BOND/Daily
an Shaw has 10 home rats through 27 tames thus tar this season. Last your, she had 14 through the entire season. 4

ERA
Taylor ............... 1.22
Nemitz ... . .. ... 1.91
Strikeouts
Taylor. . .... ..... . 156
Nemitz .............. 86

been the pitchers, throughout her
years at Michigan, Shaw has pro-
vided a consistent presence from
the middle of the lineup.
Last season, Shaw's bat heated
up in the postseason, as five of
her 14 total home runs came dur-
ing NCAA Tournament play. Only
four home runs shy of last year's
season total, Shaw looks to keep
her foot on the gas pedal this sea-

Using the team's run into the
Women's College World Series
last season as motivation, the
junior is hoping that her mental
game can give her the extra edge
in the batter's box and in the field.
"You can't just be happy to be
(in the postseason)," Shaw said.
"You can't just make it to the
dance, you have to want to win
and always be competing because
the team that's going to win is the

team that literally wants it the
most.
Any team can has the capabil-
ity, the talent, the players. Hutch
always tells us 'Other teams give
scholarships, too.' They have good
players. It really comes down to
who actually has the desire. If
your not going to grind to get it,
then everything you have done for
the past year seems like it was all
for naught."

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