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March 22, 2013 - Image 8

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2013-03-22

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8 - Friday, March 22, 2013

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

S

Behind the plate,
Michigan's rock

By ERIN LENNON
Daily Sports Writer
In a game of pure physics, the
blink ofaneye or amisread curve
could be the difference between
a win and loss for the Michigan
softball team. Just ask sopho-
more catcher Lauren Sweet.
Behind the plate, Sweet's
responsibilities go beyond catch-
ing a ball and throwing it back
to the pitcher. Catchers must
be able to keep the ball in front
of them at all times, even in the
case of a wild pitch. Sweet has
been a brick wall for the Wolver-
ines, committing just five errors
in her role as starting catcher
- just three all last season. She
completed her freshman season
with a Big Ten Freshman of the
Week award and a .988 fielding
percentage. Inside the batter's
box, she finished her freshman
campaign with a .277 batting
average.
And while she may have to
scream a little louder through
the face mask, Sweet has the
responsibility of calling out the
count and calming her pitcher
down when the opponents reach
base.
"I'll go out there (to the circle)
and remind (the pitcher), 'Hey,
it's just you and me. Just think
about it in the bullpen as if it
were just you and me,' " Sweet
said.
When sophomore pitchers
Sara Driesenga and Haley Wag-
ner hurl a softball upwards of
70 miles per hour towards home
plate, Sweet's glove has been
there to absorb the blow. In the
trio's freshman season, Sweet
started 56 games - 50 as catcher
for Wagner or Driesenga.
As one of Michigan coach
Carol Hutchins's smallest and
most exciting recruiting class,
Sweet, Wagner and Driesenga
carried the Wolverines to a
Big Ten Championship and an

appearance in the NCAA region-
al final.
"They're very different pitch-
ers," Sweet said. "I've gotten a
lot more used to them this year
because I've been playing with
them for a year now."
With Wagner's early-season
injury, Sweet has had an oppor-
tunity to catch Driesenga almost
exclusively. Driesenga - recent-
ly named NFCA National Player
of the Week - has excelled this
season, pitching her first career
no-hitter and boasting a 1.48
ERA.
"We both have great con-
fidence in each other and we
complement each other so well,"
Driesenga said.
The two California natives
began their pitcher-catcher rela-
tionship in high school. Four
years later, their comfort level
with one another is apparent on
the field.
Moving forward into the Big
Ten season, the challenge for
Sweet and her pitchers will be to
keep hitters on their heals.
"It allows the team day after
day to adjust to the other, so
it makes for a tough series,"
Hutchins said.
Added Sweet: "It takes a lot
of work when the hitters know
what the pitchers throw. It takes
a lot more effort from both the
pitcher and the catcher, and even
the coaches in calling the pitch-
es."
The Wolverines will face their
first Big Ten challenge in their
home opener against Purdue.
For Sweet, a second challenge
of the weekend may be the run-
ning game. Purdue junior out-
fielder Lindsay Rains - who
leads the Boilermakers in slug-
ging percentage - has stolen 25
of 27 bases this season, while
fifth-year senior infielder Molly
Garst leads the team in steals
with 28. Thus far, Sweet has
caught five runners in stealing.

FILE PHOTO/Daily
Sophomore pitcher Sara Driesenga threw two complete games and recorded a win in relief last weekend, along with multiple RBI at the plate.
rdw are for riesenga

Sop
e
N

SopI
enga s
threeN
progra
Pitcher
Nation
accolac
of Mic
season
strong
also c
side of
Dric
end ag
throwi

homore pitcher allowing just five hits. She helped
offensively,too,going2-for-3 with
arns Big Ten, adouble and an RBI. She followed
this up with a relief appearance,
FCA honors in holding No. 2 Arizona scoreless
for the final 2.1 innings to help
same week the Wolverines come back from a
two-run deficit. Driesenga ended
By NATE SELL the weekend against No. 14 Ari-
Daily Sports Writer zona pitching a six-inning com-
-- plete game without giving up an
homore pitcher Sara Dries- earned run to go with two RBI.
pent her weekend getting Though these performances
wins against three ranked are impressive, they come as lit-
tms, resulting in Big Ten tle surprise. Driesenga has been
r of the Week and NFCA posing problems for opposing
al Player of the Week teams in nearly every appear-
des. She's been a key part ance this season. In the circle,
higan's success early this she has already thrown a no-
- consistently delivering hitter against Hofstra on Feb. 23,
outings in the circle while and she struck out a career-high
ontributing on the other 15 batters in a win over Georgia
tthe plate. Tech on March 1. On the offensive
senga started the week- end, she had five RBI, a home run
tainst No. 18 Washington and a double against Maryland on
rng a complete game and Feb. 16. She even added a grand

slam to her resum6 the next day
against FAU.
Driesenga has the ability to
affect the game on both sides of
the plate - holding teams to few
or no hits while driving in run-
ners herself. This makes for a
dynamic player who is a night-
mare to face. It's why she's the
first Michigan player to be named
NFCA National Player of the
Week since former pitcher Jordan
Taylor in 2011 - and Big Ten play
hasn't even started.
Driesenga has even more
confidence when pitching, with
sophomore pitcher Haylie Wag-
ner returning to the lineup after
recovering from an injury.
"We both have great con-
fidence in each other, and we
complement each other so well."
Driesenga said. "We know that if
something would go wrong, the
other is going to come in and get
it done."

Since having Wagner back, Dri-
esenga has pitched without being
the only pitcher that the team is
relying on. This has helped take
pressure off of both Driesenga
and Wagner - two pitchers who
are both worthy of being the ace
for the Wolverines. This has cre-
ated what Michigan coach Carol
Hutchins calls a "deuce" at the
pitching position, where there's
no clear best pitcher.
In addition to having a "deuce"
in the circle, the team is also
focusing on playing what it calls
"one-pitch softball." The Wolver-
ines will emphasize taking every
series and every game of the sea-
son one play at a time.
Michigan will start Big Ten
play with its home opener against
Purdue this weekend, with Dries-
enga looking to add to her Big Ten
Pitcher of the Week and NFCA
National Player of the Week
awards.

Positional
Preview
By SIMON KAUFMAN
Daily Sports Writer
The Michigan softball team's fate in
the Big Ten rests in one left hand and
one right hand - those belonging to
sophomore pitchers Haylie Wagner and
Sara Driesenga, who share duties in the
circle this year. Here's a look at who will
be behind them on the diamond:
Pitchers
Left-handed pitcher Haylie Wagner had a monster
freshman year, posting a 32-7 record - a Michigan
record for victories by a freshman. The six-foot south-
paw was unable to startthe 2013 season due to an injury
but has made a smooth transition since returning March
6. Wagner has posted a 1.52 ERA, while holding oppo-
nents to a.205 average.
Right-handed pitcher Sara Driesenga did most of the
pitching during Wagner's absence this season. Dries-
enga, a member of the All-Big Ten first team her fresh-
man year, has 124 strikeouts this season - averaging
just under one per inning. Offensively, she has hit in the
clean-up spot in every game she has appeared in and is
second on the team with 25 RBI.
./

continue to be used in such a role.
Doyle, Sappingfield and Crum-
mey are all perfect in the field this
season. Doyle and Sappingfield
hit first and second in the lineup,
respectively, and both are tied
with 26 runs scored - a team best.

In the outfield, junior Lyndsay
Doyle will cover center field while
freshman Sierra Lawrence plays
left and junior Nicole Sappingfield
patrols right. Senior captain Jac-
lyn Crummey has made some spot
starts in right field and will likely
Freshman shortstop Sierra Romero has
been spectacular since taking over the
position this season. She leads the team in
hits (33), RBI (26) and slugging percentage
(.731) while batting third in the lineup.
Senior Amy Knapp moves to
third base this year after playing
shortstop a season ago. Knapp
has made a solid transition to the
hot corner, owning a .955 field-
ing percentage in 28 games this
season. Knapp has hit primarily
out of the last spot in the order -
helping turn the lineup over with
a .380 average and .444 on-base
percentage this year.

Lawrence has contributed from the
bottom half of the lineup, hitting
.315 on the season. The freshman
has also showed off her speed on
the base path - stealing six bases
without being thrown out.
An All-American her sophomore
year, senior Ashley Lane worked hard
in the off-season to improve her field-
ing, admitting that she has always been
more comfortable in the batter's box
than the field. She has batted mostly
out of the seven-hole but will occasion-
ally hit higher up. Her .568 slugging per-
centage is second best on the team.
Junior Caitlin Blanchard appeared in just
21 games last year after suffering an injury
early in the season. The first baseman is
batting .316 with 14 RBI this year. At the
beginning of the season, first base was a
position that was up for grabs, with Michi-
gan coach Carol Hutchins trying out differ-
ent options, but Blanchard has solidified the
position as hers for the time being.

6
a

0

0

Completing the battery is sophomore Lauren Sweet.
Sweet caught Wagner in high school on a travel team
and has adjusted well to being behind the dish for Dri-
esenga, too. At the plate, Sweet has struggled though,
starting the season 3-for-42 after batting .277 with six
home runs last year.

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