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March 22, 2012 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2012-03-22

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, March 22, 2012 - 5A

Softball Preview 2012
Hutchins, Michigan return home gearing up for Big Ten run

By ALEXA DETTELBACH
DailySports Writer
Maybe it was the 80-degree
heat. Maybe it was the home
crowd dressed in maize and blue.
Maybe it was because it was the
first home game. For whatever
reason,the Michigansoftball team
looked comfortable as it wrapped
up nonconference play with a 10-2
win over Eastern Michigan on
Wednesday night.
In a tumultuous first half of the
season, the 20th-ranked Wolver-
ines (18-9) had games where their
strengths were highlighted and
other days where their weakness-
es were exposed.
Early wins in February against
then-No. 22 LSU at the Tiger
Classic in Baton Rouge, La. and
then-No. 22 Kentucky at the FAU
Kickoff Classic in Boca Raton, Fla.,
exemplified the great play and
confidence that Michigan coach
Carol Hutchins has brought to the
program throughout her tenure.
The Wolverines continued their
hot streak at the Citrus Classic in
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. with wins
against No. 14 UCLA and No. 19
Auburn.
Soon after, the team hit an
offensive slump, losing four of six
games and scoring just six runs
during that stretch - including
a 5-1 loss to Illinois State, a team
' they beat earlier in the season.
"Our offense has been incon-
sistent and hasn't done its part,"
Hutchins said. "We had a nice

"Interestingly enough, our
pitching has been pretty darn
good, and our freshman have done
their part," Hutchins said. "Com-
ing into the season, that's not
something everybody expected."
Freshman right-hander Sara
Driesenga joins Wagner as the
other starting pitcher for Michi-
gan.
"I think the pitching staff has
done a great job as a whole," Wag-
ner said. "Whenever we get an
opportunity to come in and do our
part, we step up, and so far it is
working and it is going to continue
to work."
With the pitching success
ahead of schedule and the offense
slowly getting back into a rhythm,
the defense is the last component
SIDNEY KRANDALL/Daily missing.
"Our defense over the first part
of the season has not done its part,
potential, the Wolverines' slow but I think the defense is settling
start was disappointing in," Hutchins said. "It's close. If
"We were just trying to get the we want the chance to be a Big Ten
(them) to understand that they are Champion we have to compete in
trying too hard," Hutchins said. battle."
"They are trying to be heroes, and As everything comes together
they need to instead pick a pitch for the second half of the season,
and get it. That's what the team the Wolverines have picked the
needs." right time to heat up.
The biggest surprise of the first "We have a group of seniors
half of the season has been the that only know winning it, but
pitching of freshman left-hander you don't get to win it because you
Haylie Wagner, who has already won it-for three years. You don't
won two Big Ten Pitcher of the get anything," Hutchins said. "We
Week awards and one Big Ten have to come out and play softball.
Freshman of the Week award We have to play team softball,
while earninga 12-4 record on the because as a team, we're pretty
mound and pitching a 1.26 ERA. good."

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins is relying on a trio of young pitchers to lead her 19th-ranked Wolverines.

nighttonight offensively, but some
nights are going to be tougher. But
the key is to stay within ourselves
as a team."
Wednesday night's victory
against the Eagles brought back
the confidence Michigan had at
the beginning of the season, and
the team is lookingto work off this
momentum as they enter into Big
Ten play this weekend.
"We play a really touch sched-
ule in the preseason and we can't
just come in there thinking, 'Oh,
just because we play Big Ten and
always do well at that, that we're
going to do well this year,' " said
senior first baseman Amanda

Chidester. "We have to come in
and keep competing and keep
playing to our best ability in each
game. It doesn't matter if it's Penn
State (or) Louisiana-Lafayette, we
have to play our game."
As they transition into the sec-
ond half of the season, the Wol-
verines will first look to Chidester,
senior center fielder Bree Evans
and junior second baseman Ashley
Lane to lead the team offensively.
It is no coincidence that all
three were named to the Watch
List for the 2012 USA Softball Col-
legiate Player of the Year award.
Chidester leads the team with
23 RBIs and 24 hits and is sec-

ond on the team with a .289 bat-
ting average. Evans is tied with
Chidester with 24 hits and leads
the team with 15 runs, with a .273
batting average. Lane leads the
team with seven home runs has 13
RBIs.
The Michigan offense doesn't
end with the upperclassmen trio.
Freshman catcher Lauren Sweet
leads the team with a .296 batting
average and has 21 hits.
"Everyone has their own little
thing that they need to focus on,
and if we all focus on those things
then we are going to be success-
ful," Chidester said.
With all of their offensive

Freshmen have m
iln ifor Jordo

Replacing a senior leader
is not an easy task in any
port. It's even harder if
you lose an National Fastpitch
Coaches Association All-Amer-
ica second-
team pitcher COLLEEN
who led your THOMAS
squad with a
31-5 record, On Softball
1.51 ERA, 12
shutouts and
340 strikeouts last season. That
player is current Team USA
member Jordan Taylor.
That's the task the Michigan
softball team has faced all sea-
The Wolverines brought in
two star pitchers - 2011 Michi-
gan Miss Softball Sara Driesen-
ga and a top-40 lefty in Haylie
Wagner. Right off the bat, Dri-
esenga made an impact, garner-
ing Big Ten Freshman of the
Week honors in the first week
of the season. Driesenga made
her case to be the replacement
for Taylor - Michigan wouldn't
have to go through a transition
year.
That changed quickly, as her
fellow freshman stepped into
the spotlight. Wagner earned
Big Ten Pitcher of the Week
honors for two straight weeks,
putting up absurdly good num-
bers for a freshman - she went
4-0 with a .36 ERA in her first
four starts and tallied a season-
best 11 strikeouts against Penn
State on Feb. 12.
Wagner also proved she was
more than just a pitcher. The
El Modena, Calif. native hit her
first home run against then-No.
22 LSU the first tournament of
the season.
Both pitchers showed prom-
ise to step up. But once the sea-
son progressed, the freshman
duo faced tougher competition.
Each tournament featured at
least one ranked opponent, and
when Driesenga struggled to
control her release, Wagner had
to come in relief.
Wagner continued to pile on
wins - she currently sits at 12-4
on the season - while Driesen-
ga faltered, and it became clear
who was number one.
But one dominant pitcher
isn't enough for the Wolverines
to have the kind of success they
want. And that dominant pitch-
er being a freshman is less than
ideal.

Don't get me wrong - the
softball team will continue its
success in the Big Ten and the
postseason. But if the Wolver-
ines want to avoid an early exit
in June, it won't be the hitting
or the defense that will falter at
the end.
The difference
... will be its
freshman
pitching."
The difference between a
good Michigan team and a great
one will be its freshman pitch-
ing.
Wagner and Driesenga have
shown that they can perform
at an exceptionally high level.
But they both have exposed
their vulnerabilities. Dries-
enga hasn't been able to fol-
low through in her release for
most of the season, and Wagner

ajor task
rn Taylor
shows frustration when she's
behind in the count - signs that
both of them still have room to
develop into confident, domi-
nant pitchers.
That confidence won't devel-
op immediately. But if the
Wolverines want to win the
conference title and earn a spot
in the Women's College World
Series, the freshmen duo will
have to learn to gain that confi-
dence soon and eliminate those
freshman mistakes.
The rest of the team trusts
Wagner and Driesenga in the
circle, and Michigan coach
Carol Hutchinstbelieves the
pitchers are on the right track
to develop their skills.
But it's not about what the
rest of the team thinks or how
much faith the coach has. It's all
about how Driesenga and Wag-
ner perform - and that's how
the Wolverines' softball season
will turn out.
It may sound like a lot riding
on the shoulders of an eighteen-
and nineteen-year-old, but if
Michigan wants to play ball into
June, the freshmen duo will be
the key.

STAFF PICKS
The Daily softball beat makes
its predictions for the season
These writers guess whether
Michigan can win it all
and who may step up this
season for the Wolverines.

Alexa
Dettelbach

ureg
Garno

Dettelbach Garno

Michigan overall record
Michigan Big Ten ecord
Michigin MOP
Michgan Offenie Player ofth~eYear
Michigan Feihmaofthe Ycar
Big TenRegularSeasonChampion
Big Ten Regular Season Runere-Up
BgTen MVP
Big Te SupriseTcem
Michgan's eason Ends Here

H-aylie Wgner
Michigan
Alcia Herron (OhioStite)
s Na .ebrask a

400-5
18-b
Chidester
Ashley Lane
Wager
Michigan ihii
i ebraska
Alicia Herron (Ohio State)
NCAA Super Regional

Sio~askiMa1o7-i
Wagner

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