The Wolverine

March 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MARCH 2022 THE WOLVERINE 89   OLYMPIC SPORTS UPDATE Led By Stacked Pitching Staff, Michigan Softball Eyes Fourth Straight Big Ten Title M ichigan softball has won the last three Big Ten titles, but hasn't made it out of the NCAA regional round since making the Women's College World Series in 2016. With a loaded pitching staff and several key hitters re- turning, the Wolverines have a shot at making their deepest run in some time. Still, the main goal remains winning the conference crown. "If you walk in our locker room, we have a wall that's all of our Big Ten champions," 38th-year head coach Carol Hutchins said on the Conqu'ring Heroes podcast. "The culture is built on tradition. The kids walk into this pro- gram understanding that we are aspir- ing to be a Big Ten champion every year. That never changes; we don't change our goals year to year." Headlining the pitching staff — which Hutchins calls "without a doubt, our strength" — are senior Alex Storako, the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, and fifth-year senior Meghan Beaubien, a 2021 first-team All-Big Ten standout who's using her extra year of eligibility. Storako posted a Big Ten-high 23 wins to just two losses in 2021, with a league- best 1.05 ERA. Beaubien was right be- hind her with a 1.24 ERA (second in the Big Ten) and a 16-5 record. "We're really led by a 1-1 punch," Hutchins said. "We've got two aces — two No. 1 pitchers. They'll carry the load, and we've got three new freshmen who are all really capable." The Wolverines' 2021 recruiting class was ranked No. 11 in the nation by Extra Inning Softball and includes pitchers Emerson Aiken and Lauren Derkowski, plus pitcher/infielder Annabelle Widra. While U-M will lean on its two aces, Hutchins noted that it's important to get the younger players some experience on the mound. The Maize and Blue have four return- ing position players from a unit that led the Big Ten in batting average, on-base percentage and home runs last year, including senior outfielder Lexie Blair, who secured the 2021 Big Ten Player of the Year honor. Her .406 batting aver- age was second in the league, and she homered six times. "I've been really impressed with our offensive capabilities," Hutchins said. "We're more athletic than we've been, and we're pretty athletic throughout the lineup." Fifth-year senior third baseman Tay- lor Bump, who batted .323 and knocked in 31 runs during her breakout campaign in 2021, is another cornerstone. "Fifth-year, great experience, an- chors that third base and hits the heck out of the ball," Hutchins said. U-M also welcomed a pair of graduate transfers in sixth-year senior outfielder Kristina Burkhardt (North Carolina) and senior utility player Melina Livingston (Penn State). The former led UNC with a .333 batting average last season and was a two-time All-ACC selection, while the latter made 103 starts at PSU and held a career .293 batting average. The Wolverines began the season No. 16 in the national rankings and went 3-2 at the USF-Rawlings Invitational Feb. 11-13. — Clayton Sayfie VETERAN BASEBALL SQUAD IS READY FOR ACTION Michigan baseball, like many other teams across the country this season, is older than it's been in some time. The Wolverines return two of their three weekend starting pitchers, and some of their best lineup combinations won't in- clude a player younger than junior status, head coach Erik Bakich said. A U-M offense that led the Big Ten in runs scored last season brings back its top two hitters, and four of its top six, in terms of batting average, highlighted by junior second baseman Ted Burton, a 2021 first-team All-Big Ten selection. The Maize and Blue also added two graduate transfers in fifth-year senior infielder Alex Fedje-Johnson (David- son) and fifth-year senior outfielder Joe Stewart (Michigan State). They also get back sixth-year senior infielder Matt Frey, who missed all of last season with a knee injury after transferring in from Davidson. "We have a lot of guys with experi- ence, a lot of depth, a lot of age," Bakich said on the Conqu'ring Heroes podcast. "All bodes well. The challenge for us as coaches is finding the right pieces to make the best lineup to give us the best chance to win as many games as pos- sible. But we are not lacking anything." Lefty ace Steve Hajjar is gone, after being picked by the Minnesota Twins in the second round last year, but the Maize and Blue have plenty of talent still resid- ing on the pitching staff. Junior right-hander Cameron Weston, who earned second-team All-Big Ten recognition, started 14 games last season and posted a 2.81 ERA with a 7-4 record. Junior left-hander Jacob Denner is an- other with experience, having appeared in 13 tilts with nine starts a year ago, reg- istering a 4.35 ERA and 4-4 record. "Both of those guys are back as week- end starters, and any time you get two of your three weekend starters back, that's a good thing," Bakich said. "And then we'll have some guys that are ready to step up." Senior Alex Storako, the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, posted a league-high 23 wins against just two losses in 2021, with a league-best 1.05 ERA. PHOTO BY DARYL MARSHKE/MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY

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