Michigan softball players Tera Blanco, left, and Aidan Falk talk about the team's mindset heading into the NCAA Tournament. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — The Michigan softball practice Tuesday was louder and more enthusiastic, and it was that way for a reason.
Michigan is coming off a 7-0 loss to Michigan State in a second-round Big Ten Tournament game last Friday and has gone 4-4 its last eight games. Something has been missing, and Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said she thinks she might have found it.
“This was endorphins Tuesday,” Hutchins said, laughing after practice.
Michigan (43-11) plays a first-round NCAA Tournament game against Notre Dame on Friday in the Lexington, Kentucky regional.
The team began Tuesday’s practice with “hustle drills” and Hutchins insisted players sprint when they walked on and off the field.
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“I don’t want them to confuse fun with passion because being in the heat of tight game isn’t fun unless you’re passionate about the opportunity to play in a tight game,” Hutchins said. “Obviously, we were pretty down after the horrible outing on Friday night. We need to pick ourselves up. We had to practice that.
“We reminded them if they strike the ball well, give us some energy. It’s giving energy and it makes you feel better. You want to have fun, you have to feel good. I thought we got better at it. it’s something in hindsight I would probably say we haven’t emphasized (this season). They do it naturally at times. You see them when they’re having a good game and things are going their way but sometimes you have to talk yourself into things that are going your way. Even if you hit the ball well and they catch, things are going our way because hard-hit balls are good. More than anything, nobody gets to sit around and have a pity part because we’re in the NCAA Tournament. We have to look forward and let go of the past.”
That concept sat well with the players Tuesday. They know they had to try something to jump-start themselves as they head into the NCAA Tournament.
“Our past few games you could definitely see our confidence drop, and this week that’s what we’re trying to get back because when we play with our confidence, we’re good,” Faith Canfield said. “We’re a good team, and so I think (it’s about) trusting ourselves and not second-guessing that we know how to play.”
In the loss to Michigan State, the Wolverines tied a season-low with three hits and had a season-high 10 strikeouts. Freshman phenom pitcher Meghan Beaubien, the Big Ten’s Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year, struggled in her first postseason performance.
“You saw it Friday night,” Hutchins said when asked about the team missing energy. “ We’ve seen it in the last couple weeks. Our energy level coincides with our performance level. But especially at this point, they were very disappointed and very disappointed in themselves.
“I know Beaubien was very disappointed in herself after the Friday night loss to Michigan State. But you know what, the game doesn’t know anything about the Michigan State game. It knows what we’re doing right now. They’re going to try to celebrate everything we do well — anytime you get on base, anytime you strike the ball well, anytime you make a good play, anytime you make an out. That will help us gather some momentum for ourselves.”
Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins reflects on her team's loss to Michigan State in Big Ten tournament and the need to recapture the energy to compete in the NCAA Tournament. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
But bringing more enthusiasm to the game isn’t the only change Hutchins said the team has to make. She is considering a move in the lineup.
“My wheels are spinning,” he said. “Really the question is, who goes where. It’s difficult right now. I’m sure we will have at least some tweaks.”
Hutchins last week even before the Big Ten tournament knew the Wolverines wouldn’t host a regional. But, she said, Michigan is a team to be feared on the road in the NCAA Tournament.
Aidan Falk said that’s because of the history of success Hutchins has coached here.
“I like playing on the road. I’m all about it,” Falk said. “I think it would be intimidating to have us in that bracket, just like how it’s intimidating for any other team that has that tradition and has a longstanding program to be playing because you know they’re used to success and there is something within their tradition that that’s what you have to face. You’re not necessarily like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Michigan,’ but the tradition and the coaches, it’s the experience that comes with it that’s a good factor for us.”
Bottom line, Hutchins wants to see an enthusiastic Michigan team take the field Friday and beyond.
“I thought we got better today,” Hutchins said of endorphins Tuesday. “We’ll continue with it. We will not let go of it ever.”