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March 20, 2014 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-03-20

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7A - Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Softball: Ateam
of multiple aces

Michigan places more p
go, the
its title hopes on As t
into t
multiple pitchers weeke
Daily Sports Writer last we
Practice is almost over at the ot
Oosterbaan Field House on her wo
March 12, Michigan's first since best. a
a nine-day spring break trip in greatn
California. After three days off, nation.
the energy is palpable. Softball greatr
is not known for its fast-paced or will
nature, but today, after a tough
3-4 stretch out West, chatter fills,***
the building.
One half of the Wolverines' Mor
junior pitching duo is on the passed
makeshift mound, the other pitche
practicing in the batting cage. son op
Junior right-hander Sara Dries- like sh
enga pitches in the circle while mount
junior left-hander Haylie Wag- Thr
ner waits on the first-base line. junior
They are taking turns in a full- and sl
count drill with the bases loaded, ing d
a drill designed to mimic late- shorts
game pressure. slam,I
With Wagner looking on from to the.
the first-base line, Driesengagets ida.
a strikeout, sending Wagner out But
to the mound while Driesenga theyh
gets some quick advice. Drie
Wagner gets the sign, then in the
delivers. She snags a line drive up Gators
the middle and throws itchome. A Wagne
moment later, she catches senior eighth
leadoff hitter Lyndsay Doyle homer
with an off-speed pitch. Sin
This year, freshman Megan up jus
Betsa has been thrown into the inning
mix and has been strong, starting surren
6-3 with a 2.27 ERA. Still, as the again
Wolverines get deep into Big Ten had in
season, one of the experienced 0-3 w
juniors will likely get the nod for saves i
postseason play. Dri
In the meantime, Michigan made
coach Carol Hutchins isn't shy chang
about dividing the load. all, ni
"I don't really care who plays," pitchir
Hutchins said. "I don't care who gest st
pitches. When you're in there, I "Co
want you to do your part and do just
your best. And there's nothing remen
that would be better than to have Driese
all three of them on all cylinders a reas
at that time. We certainly need round
at least one of them to be, but the next tc

itchers you have ready to Three scoreless innings last
better your arsenal." weekend were a step in the right
he Wolverines (19-6) head direction, but Hutchins hasn't
lhe Big Ten season this decided on a distribution of
nd, Wagner is on a roll. innings going forward.
nga's ERA has dropped, In her second campaign, Dri-
in part to three scoreless esenga owned the circle, while
s in two relief appearances Wagner sat out the first part of
ekend. the season with a back injury.
h pitcher's high has been She went 31-9 with a 1.89 ERA
her's low. Each has had and led the team .all the way
rst year during the other's to the Women's College World
Each has shown signs of Series, after finishing with a los-
ess in her career. Many ing record in her freshman year.
al champions have one With only half of the season
pitcher. Will one emerge, over, Driesenga still believes she
two? can regain the form that earned
her seven postseason wins in
On goes the competition,
re than eight months had which - at least in practice -
since Driesenga last remains friendly.
d in a game, but in the sea- "We want each other to do
ener on Feb. 8, she played well," Driesenga said. "That
e was still standing on the doesn't mean I want the ball any
d in Oklahoma City. less."
ough six innings, the
had a two-hit shutout ***
howed no signs of slow-
wn. Paced by sophomore A product of Orange, Calif.,
top Sierra Romero's grand Wagner immediately earned a
Driesenga took a 4-0 lead stronghold in the circle in her
seventh against No. 5 Flor- freshman year. She set the school
record with 50 appearances - a
then things changed, and record that lasted all of one year
aven't been the same since. until Driesenga broke it last sea-
esenga gave up four runs son.
seventh before giving the Now, Wagner is having the
the lead in the eighth. best stretch of her career: 13-0 in
er came in briefly in the 15 appearances and a 0.93 ERA.
and gave up a two-run As a freshman, she was Big Ten
run. Pitcher of the Year, going 32-7 in
ce then, Wagner has given 34 starts with a 1.53 ERA.
t eight earned runs in 74.1 Before Wagner got the chance
s, while Driesenga has to continue that success last sea-
dered 16 in 34.1, never son, she suffered a back injury
replicating the form she and missed three weeks. When
the season opener. She is she returned, she split time
ith a 3.19 ERA and three with Driesenga until Driesenga
in 11 appearances. gained the edge in the postsea-
esenga said she hasn't son battle.
any major mechanical From the Big Ten Tournament
es in her delivery - after to the end of the season, Dries-
4ne months ago, she was enga pitched 70 innings to Wag-
ng on college softball's big- ner's five.
age. So what's working well this
nfidence is a huge thing, season?
going into every game "I'm just going out there and
mbering that I can do it," hitting my spots and working
enga said. "I'm playing for on my pitches and working on
on, for my teammates sur- movement," Wagner said. "I
ing me and everyone right know that if I pitch the ball, I
o me." know my defense is going to be


Junior right-hander Sara Driesenga (top) and junior left-hander Haylie Wagner (bottom) have controlled the mound.

right there and be able to help me
out with anything that goes their
Each pitcher came into 2014
with one breakout year under
her belt. This is quickly becom-
ing Wagner's second - among
Big Ten pitchers, she ranks first in
ERA by more than two tenths of
a run and second in wins despite
sitting at eighth in starts.
Compared to Driesenga and
Betsa, Wagner likely has the slow-
est velocity, but makes up for it by
hitting her spots.
"Everybody wants their speed
a little bit higher, butI don't really
focus on that," Wagner said. "I
just focus on the movement and
spin and hitting my spots and

working on the little things and Hutchins said. "And I think both
what's most effective and what's of the other two can do their part
going to beat the batters." better."
Added Hutchins: "She com-
mands the zone, she throws it ***
just enough out of the zone to get
them to miss it and she attacks Soon, it's Driesenga back out
the hitters. You have to have to the mound in the drill. Before
command of the zone. You've got she pitches, she asks for a timeout
to be able to put the ball just off to talk over the signs. As senior
the plate, tic. , .1 ,a{ahead, catcher Caitlin Blanchard comes
then get a little bi: :.:c - oft the out, Driesenga covers up a smile
plate, and then sneak it inside on with her mitt.
them." So again, the competition con-
Hutchins said she still plans to tinues, even when it seems like
divide up the innings in the near fun.
future, but she did acknowledge "I think they've done a good job
Wagner's dominance. picking each other up," Hutchins
"I would say right now Hay- said. "Wouldn'tthat be something
lie Wagner is doing her part," if they were the dynamic duo?"

From Page 6A
conversation toward "one-
pitch softball," that "champi-
ons adjust" or that "the game
doesn't know."
This year, Hutch's team has
all the pieces to execute the
phrases they echo so read-
ily. And with the bulk of the
non-conference schedule over,
Michigan has already had its
mettle tested when it comes
to sticking to the Gospel of
one-pitch softball:
In the season opener against
then-No. 4 Florida, the Wolver-
ines led, 4-0, with two outs in
the seventh inning. Junior right-
hander Sara Driesenga had held
the Gators to just two hits and
appeared to be just a few pitches
from aseason-openingwin.
That was the problem.
Driesenga seemed focused on
finishing the game, not making
the best pitch for the count. Then
Florida got a hit. And another.
And another. And another. Sud-
denlyitwas a4-4gamegoinginto
extra innings, and then a 9-4 loss.
Game over. Lessonlearned.
Flash-forward to Feb. 22, with
Michigan leading No. 5 Kentucky
3-0 in the seventh inning, and

junior left-hander Haylie Wagner
having given up just two hits all
Sound familiar?
This time, Wagner made her
pitches, one at a time, and the
Wildcats went down 1-2-3. It was
textbook one-pitch softball.
Champions adjust:
In an attempt to escape the
fickle Ann Arbor weather, the
Wolverines went to the Louisville
SluggerInvitational inLakewood,
Calif.the last weekofFebruary.
Surprisingly, though, four of
their five games were canceled
due to inclement weather, and
they weren't even able to be
outside long enough to run a
"You either let it defeat you,
or you defeat it," Hutchins said
then. "You have to rise above
And rise above it they did.
Michigan emerged from the
storm to split a pair of games
with then-No. 4 UCLA.
. But adjustment is perpetual.
It means being quick to iden-
tify problems and starting on a
solution immediately.
With this Wolverine team,
there's enough talent that
when one position group is
down, any other group is
strong enough to buoy the team

while it recovers. In that way,
it can be hard to differentiate
between what is adjustment
and what is a good team cover-
ing up its few problems with a
surplus of star power.
The game doesn't know:
If there's one "Hutchins-
ism" sure to ring true for this
team, it's this one.
Between sophomore ESPN
Preseason All-American short-
stop Sierra Romero, freshman
right-hander Megan Betsa and
sophomore outfielder Sierra
Lawrence, Michigan is loaded
with high ceilings.
Hutchins hasn't eased them
into competition to maximize
their potential; she has thrown
them right into the fire -
because she can.
"We didn't recruit anyone
to come in and take a year off
to be a freshman," Hutchins
said. "The game doesn't know
whether you're a freshman or
a senior. The game only knows
how you play it."

With how Michigan's
younger players have per-
formed early on, it's hard to
argue otherwise.
Betsa is 6-3 with a 2.27 ERA
and a team-leading 63 strike-
outs in 49 innings pitched.
Romero leads the Wolverines
with six home runs and 31 RBI,
slugging .791. Lawrence isn't
far behind those numbers.
These are players who are
going to make or break the sea-
son for Michigan, and they're
hardly any older than the
recruits who come and watch
them play.
And that's all by design.
A Hall of Famer with 15 Big
Ten titles under her belt and a
Womens' College World Series
ring on her finger, there's no
question Hutchins knows what
she's doing in the dugout. This
year's group of players has all
the talent to backup her classic
rhetoric. As they keep deliver-
ing on it, the seemingly mun-
dane echoes will only get more

From Page 6A
overall ERA of 1.42.
Illinois (14-7)
The Fighting Illini have only
played two ranked teams all sea-
son, and lost to both of theo.
Illinois was clobbered by No. 3
Tennessee 10-0, and was later
beat twice by No. 13 South Ala-
Player to watch: Freshman
right-hander pitcher Brandi
Needham has accounted for
nine of the Fighting Illini's wins
and has an ERA of 1.63. Needham
has proven to be Illinois' only
accountable pitcher so far this
season, and the other two that
have seen game action have aver-
ages of 3.04 and 4.32.
Wisconsin (12-10)
The Badgers have just three
hitters with averages over .300,
but hurting Wisconsin even more
is its lack of reliable pitchers. Hav-
ing played only two pitchers all
season, the Badgers' bullpen has

an ERA above 3.50.
Player to watch: Senior right-
handed pitcher Cassandra Dar-
Darrah was named to the All-
Big first team in 2013 after posting
an ERA of 1.82 that season. So far
in 2014, Darrah has been slightly
uncharacteristic with an average
of 2.59, but if she recovers any-
time soon, beware.
Ohio State (12-14)
The Buckeyes lack the depth in
both hitting and pitching to stay
afloat in the Big Ten. Ohio State
hasn't found a starting pitcher
yet, and it has just two hitters
batting above .300. After facing
zero ranked opponents all season,
the Buckeyes are going to have a
tough time in conference play.
Player to watch: Junior out-
fielder Caitlin Conrad
Conrad is leading the team in
hitting, but she also accounts for
five of the Buckeyes' 13 home runs.
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Michigan's season ends here

Haylie Wagner
Abby Ramirez

Sierra Romero
Megan Betsa




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