Wolverines won't face any pushovers in softball regional
Ann Arbor — Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins and her team are thrilled to host an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2016, but this will not be an easy task.
The Wolverines, winners of the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, will face St. Francis (29-29) at 4:30 Friday at Alumni Field, where the Wolverines are undefeated this season. James Madison, ranked No. 16, plays DePaul in the first game at 2 p.m. Michigan (43-11) is the 15th overall seed — 16 teams host regionals — and is ranked No. 19 nationally. The Wolverines have won 31 of their last 32 games.
"I think it is really tough," Hutchins said of the regional. "I was wondering if we were going to get sent to James Madison, we when got down to the last two spots. They are very deserving to host. They have had a great season.
“In my opinion, they should be hosting. I certainly didn’t invite them here.”
If Michigan and James Madison advance, they will face each other on Saturday at noon. James Madison won their regular-season meeting in March, 3-0. The Dukes are No. 13 in RPI, one spot behind Michigan. Hutchins won’t reveal how she will use her pitchers this weekend, but said Meghan Beaubien and Alex Storako will see the field plenty.
“We’ve improved a lot since then,” Hutchins said. “The thing is, you’ve got to believe they’ve improved as well.”
Hutchins cautioned she is not making any assumptions that the Wolverines will be facing the Dukes on Saturday. James Madison won the Colonial Athletic Association championship, outscoring its opponents, 33-1. Michigan, after a tough start, has been playing what Hutchins called postseason-level softball since then.
But is this team peaking? She doesn’t think that’s the way to describe what the Wolverines have achieved so far.
“I think this team, we’re going up a mountain, and they just keep going up the mountain,” Hutchins said. “I don’t even think they’re peaking. I think they’re just playing well. We have played consistently well since we got back to Alumni Field. We started playing well and better on spring break, though. We were still a little inconsistent, but we were definitely playing better.
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“We started moving in the right direction. Every week, they just stay on it. They don’t get too high about themselves. They’ve had some great team wins. When you walk off more than a couple times in a year and come from behind, it means it’s a great team. Good coaches can make a team good. Great players and great team leaders — when a team leads the team, when you have players leading the team, you’ll see greatness. And we’ve seen a lot of moments of greatness. That’s a big positive.”
The players said they learned plenty from the struggles early in the season.
“It really took time to find ourselves as a team as a whole and what we can do together,” freshman outfielder Lexie Blair said. “At that point in the season, it was what people would say, like our lowest low of the season. We just weren’t meshing in that yet. All we could control was our energy at the time. We were taking some people lightly and we just didn’t have that same mental approach we do now.
“We just wanted to stay present and embrace each moment as a team together and appreciate the opportunities that are given to us and not take them for granted. I feel like we’ve done that well. Our one-pitch focus, not focusing on the outcome but focusing on the pitch coming in whether you’re on the field or at bat, has really helped us.”
Ann Arbor Regional
All games at Alumni Field
Format: Double elimination
Game 1: No. 2 James Madison vs. No. 3 DePaul, 2 p.m.
Game 2: No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 4 St. Francis, 4:30 p.m.
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 2 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary): Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 4:30 p.m.