Brandon's Blog: 'One Pitch at a Time' Defines Softball Program
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May 31, 2013

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

The University of Michigan softball team has been built upon the core strengths of shutdown pitching, strong fielding and timely hitting. Still, it is the long-held philosophy of playing the game 'one pitch at a time' that holds true.

Now head coach Carol Hutchins will remind this Wolverine softball team that is exactly the philosophy they need to take on here at the Women's College World Series.

The 7-1 loss to Oklahoma Thursday night (May 30) was tough, but this program and this team has been in this situation before.

In 2005 when the Wolverine softball team won the NCAA national championship, they lost their third game of the series to Tennessee and its outstanding pitcher, Monica Abbott, 2-0. One game later, U-M had to go up against Abbott and the Volunteers one more time in a do-or-die situation. A loss would have knocked the Wolverines out of the tournament.

This time, Abbott and the Vols were beaten, 3-2, sending Michigan to the championship series against UCLA. In the best-of-three series against the Bruins, Michigan not only lost the first game, U-M was down 2-0 before coming back to win game two. The Maize & Blue then had to rebound from a 1-0 deficit in the championship tilt to send the contest to extra innings. Samantha Findlay hit the dramatic three-run homer to give the Wolverines a 4-1 win and the WCWS title.

The 2013 Wolverine softball team has similar traits to the '05 team. Look what happened one week ago against Louisiana-Lafayette!

On Friday afternoon in the top of the 7th and final inning, the Ragin' Cajuns were within one out of losing until a two-run homer tied the game at 2-2. ULL scored one run in the top of the 8th to take a one-run lead.

With a runner on first base, Ashley Lane stepped to the plate. After getting a second chance in the batter's box when ULL's first baseman dropped a foul ball, the senior second baseman hit a two-run line-drive shot over the wall in left field for the walk-off homer in game one of the best-of-three series.

It wasn't easy for Lane to step to the plate in this situation. In her three previous trips to the plate, Lane struck out three times. She knew she needed to take 'one pitch at a time.'

On Saturday, it was sophomore pitcher Sara Driesenga who had to live by the adage: one pitch at a time. In the first game, Louisiana-Lafayette roughed up Driesenga with three home runs, scoring five times in the 5-0 shutout over U-M.

Michigan's sophomore pitcher Haylie Wagner was scheduled to throw the second game of the day when late in the warm-ups, Wagner felt tightness in the shoulder of her throwing arm. The lineup card was already submitted to the umpires when Hutch had to go back to the bench and ask Driesenga to come back out and face the Ragin' Cajuns.

This time Driesenga sparkled. She pitched a four hit gem, striking out seven batters allowing only one unearned run in the 2-1 NCAA Super Regional-clinching game.

And who provided the game-winning hit? The hero of game one: Ashley Lane. This time she came to the plate in the fifth inning with two runners on. The previous two times she grounded out to end the inning, leaving runners in scoring position. This time Lane lined a two-run double to left knocking in Michigan's only runs.

Those heroics aren't the only examples of focus to deliver in key moments.

Earlier this year, catcher Lauren Sweet suffered the sophomore jinx. Last year as a freshman, she had an extremely good year, yet this season did not start off as well. Sweet had one hit the entire month of February, and did not get her second hit until the second week of March. Batting just .071 she turned it around.

Sweet went on to hit .429 in Big Ten play to become a first team All-Big Ten performer. She was three-for-four with three RBIs, including the game-winning hit in U-M's 5-3 win at Nebraska. Sweet also added a pair of home runs in the 5-0 win over California in the first round of NCAA Tournament play.

This is Michigan's 10th trip to the WCWS and this team has the same personality of so many of the 'Hutch' coached teams.

Hutch and her staff know how to win, but they also know to continue winning -- a team cannot look ahead. The University of Michigan program has learned to focus 'one pitch at a time.'

And for Lane, Jaclyn Crummy, Amy Knapp and Stephanie Speierman, who are making their first trip to the WCWS, the 2013 Wolverines have already successfully carried on one streak. This U-M team ensured that every recruiting class since 1991 has made at least one trip the biggest tournament in college softball: the Women's College World Series.

That in itself is quite a feat -- all accomplished by taking 'one pitch at a time.'

Good luck against Arizona State on Saturday.

We are so proud of you!

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