Ann Arbor — Sierra Romero is good, really good.
For the second consecutive year, the Michigan junior infielder is among three finalists for the national Player of the Year award, which will be announced tonight, and she has led the Wolverines to the Women's College World Series this week in Oklahoma City.
Michigan will face Alabama at 7 p.m. Thursday in its opener. The Wolverines were 2-0 against the Crimson Tide during the regular season, back in February in Alabama's home tournament.
Romero has set the NCAA record for grand slams with 10, she has Michigan's record for RBI, 223 and counting, and is tied for the school home-run record with 62. She's seventh nationally in batting average at .472 and is second in on-base percentage at .624. Romero leads the team in slugging percentage at .962, and credits a tough offseason strength and conditioning regimen that has put her in top shape and has helped her more than double last season's stolen bases to 20.
She is a complete player and even moved from shortstop to second base this season to accommodate teammate Abby Ramirez. Romero, the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, has started 53 games at second base for the 56-6 Wolverines.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, who is taking her program to its 11th World Series and is 10 years removed from a national championship, is not one to compare her teams or heap accolades on her players.
But is Romero the best player Hutchins has coached?
"She's going to break every record we have," Hutchins said Monday after the Wolverines' final practice before heading to the World Series. "When it's all said and done, I'm going to judge her on how her teams do. I've said that to her, and I talk a lot to her about (New York Yankees great) Derek Jeter, because Derek Jeter wasn't even as good as her.
"But being good is a God-given talent to some degree, and what you do with your talent. She's seemingly starting to get it, because last weekend (in the Super Regionals) I really liked us, and I really liked her."
Hutchins drew the comparison to Jeter, because of his leadership skills, not to mention his all-around excellent play.
"Yeah, I think she's better than Derek Jeter," Hutchins said. "Look at all of her tools. She can swing it, hit it and yeah, he does all that, too. I'm not knocking on Derek Jeter. I'm just suggesting she's just that talented. But what made Derek Jeter was his ability to elevate his team and take them to a lot of championships, and that's her goal."
Romero was about 6 years old when she discovered her love for softball. She was attending her father Mike's baseball game in San Diego, sitting in the bleachers with her mother, when Mike blasted a home run.
"My dad just crushes one, and it goes over the fence and then onto the freeway -- that's how far it was hit and I was just completely in awe," Romero said. "I was like, 'How is that possible someone hit it that far?' That was big."
She has never had a homer wind up on a freeway, but Romero said that one time in high school she sailed one over a 50-foot fence onto the neighborhood street surrounded by houses.
As Hutchins describes it, Romero is "wired to be a basher." Slugging is what Romero loves and is expected to do. She generates tremendous power with her hips and quick hands, and subsequent bat speed. She was jammed by a pitch during regionals, but because of her quick hands was able to send the ball to right field, scoring two.
Being the big hitter, though, can be a burden.
She went through a midseason slump this year and dwelled on the minutiae while her teammates around her in the lineup hit freely. And while she leads the team with 21 home runs, this is a big-hitting team that leads the nation with 115 homers.
"I was tight when I was swinging," Romero said. "I was trying to do too much. I was trying to hit home runs. I took a step back and realized I don't have to do this. If I don't hit a home run, that doesn't mean we're not going to win. I just realized, 'OK, just play like I know how to play and together we're going to win.' "
This is part of the maturing process Hutchins has seen in Romero in recent weeks. She is understanding the freedom of having a lineup that's deep with hitters one through nine, and that her responsibility is to get on base.
"As far as pressure on me, I have little to none, and that's so nice," Romero said. "If anything, it changed my approach hitting-wise because before I was used to getting walked so much. Now, they don't want to pitch to anyone in our lineup. I'm going to see pitches, and I'm going to see good pitches. I'm not going to see those junk pitches they try to get me to swing at."
She chose Michigan because it fit her checklist, minus the winter weather. She liked the idea the football team plays in the biggest stadium, she likes the idea of a Michigan degree, and she's working with a coach who in 31 seasons has delivered 19 Big Ten titles, 11 World Series appearances and a national championship.
Why Romero couldn't get younger sister Sydney to commit to Michigan over Oklahoma, where she will begin play this year, is beyond her. The sisters will get a chance to travel together this summer for USA Softball, Sydney as a member of the junior team, while Sierra will also work an internship in marketing communications for the team.
But now she's making a trip to Oklahoma City with her teammates with one goal in mind. In fact, Hutchins said Romero told her she didn't want to travel there for the Player of the Year banquet unless she was going with Michigan as a World Series participant.
"It's a great realization," Hutchins said. "To her credit, she's accomplished so much, (and) that's great stuff, that's why we recruited her. We knew she was that kind of player, and she still has exceeded my expectations, trust me."
MICHIGAN VS, ALABAMA
What : Wolverines' Women's College World Series opener
When : 7 p.m. Thursday
Where : ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City
TV : ESPN2
Records : Michigan 56-6, Alabama 47-13
WOMEN'S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES
Game 1 — Florida vs. Tennessee, noon (ESPN)
Game 2 — Auburn vs. LSU, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3 — Michigan vs. Alabama, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 4 — Oregon vs. UCLA, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Game 5 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 9:30 p.m.
Game 7 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, noon
Game 8 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 2:30 p.m.
Game 9 — Game 5 loser vs. Game 7 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 10 — Game 6 loser vs. Game 8 winner, 9:30 p.m.
Game 11 — Game 5 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 12 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 3:30 p.m.
Game 13 — Game 5 winner vs. Game 9 loser, 7 p.m., if necessary
Game 14 — Game 6 winner vs. Game 10 loser, 9:30 p.m., if necessary
Note: If only one game is necessary, it will be played at 7 p.m.
Monday, June 1 — 8 p.m.
Tuesday, June 2 — 8 p.m.
Wednesday, June 3 — 8 p.m., if necessary