It's easy to see why Michigan is a huge hit

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan has 118 homers this season, compared to 97 for the national champion 2005 team.

Oklahoma City – It has been an easy and obvious comparison, this current Michigan softball team and the 2005 Wolverines.

After all, the 2015 Wolverines want what the team 10 years ago has – a national championship.

Michigan will face Florida in the best-of-three Women's College World Series championship round beginning Monday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium after both advanced through the early games unbeaten. The Gators are defending national champions and boast National Player of the Year Lauren Haeger, a dual-threat pitcher-hitter, and Michigan features Sierra Romero, a finalist for that award and a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.

The Wolverines are a big-hitting team, deep from top to bottom in the lineup, and they lead the country in home runs with 118 after Romero added another against LSU on Sunday in a victory that sent them to the championship series.

Michigan's team batting average is .344 and slugging percentage is .625 (Romero's is an amazing .946). The Wolverines' on-base percentage is .462, and not only did they set a program record for home runs -- they have 118 -- but their 536 runs also is a record.

Carol Hutchins, Michigan's coach the last 31 seasons who has taken the program to 11 World Series appearances, went back to a drill from the 2005 season, ironically enough, that has paid off this season.

She calls it "vision training." A machine called "the lobster" shoots tennis balls at high speeds while the players are hitting. Small numbers in red or black are printed on the tennis balls, and the player must identify the number and color, and then indicate where the ball made contact on the bat.

Hutchins learned about vision training in 2005 from the Olympic softball team and adapted it to her team that season. After that, the Wolverines didn't utilize the drill much until this year.

"We brought it back from Day 1 and said we really need to see the ball better," Hutchins said. "And there's not a doubt it has helped us see the ball better."

Amanda Scarborough, an ESPN softball analyst and former Texas A&M standout, said it's an outstanding drill made even better because the players must indicate the location of bat contact.

"You have to feel it," Scarborough said. "It's a feel thing. It's a recognition thing, so that the next swing you take, you make an adjustment or feel the same thing you just felt with the contact point. If you can see it and if you can feel a good barrel to the ball and see the complete ball, that's timing."

Some of Michigan's hitting improvements this season compared to the national title team 10 years ago could be attributed to strength training and bat technology – the 2005 team had 97 home runs and scored 419 runs. But the vision training certainly has helped.

Jessica Merchant, captain of the 2005 Michigan team and now an assistant at Minnesota, said it trains the eye to "slow down" the ball to see it.

"They're crushing the ball," Merchant said. "I think everybody will go buy one now."

Lindsay Montemarano, who was 2-for-2 and scored a run against LSU on Sunday, said the vision training takes much of the thinking out of hitting. The training allows a batter to hit reset if she's struggling, because she can fall back on what she's been drilled on all season.

"If you're in a slump, first thing a lot of people aren't doing is seeing the ball," Montemarano said. "So being able to read a tiny number and name the color and point out where it is on the bat -- we do that in practice every day. We have to take deep breaths and say keep your eye on the ball, and it can really help you make good contact. We just try to make good contact, and it helps."

That the training has helped the Wolverines zone in on the ball has been obvious, particularly during this postseason.

"Our kids do see the ball well, and they strike the ball well," Hutchins said. "We hit the ball square a lot, and their confidence is so important in that, because a confident hitter is so much better than a non-confident hitter."

Michigan batwomen

Some notable offensive numbers for Michigan's offense this season:

Record: 59-6

Team batting average: .344

Runs: 536

Hits: 574

Doubles: 95

Home runs: 118

RBI: 500

Slugging percentage: .625

Walks: 320

On-base percentage: .462

Women's College World Series

Best-of-three championship round

Monday: Michigan vs. Florida, 8 p.m. ESPN2

Tuesday: Michigan vs. Florida, 8 p.m. ESPN

Wednesday: Michigan vs. Florida, 8 p.m., if necessary ESPN