Kornacki: Betsa Carrying U-M as Workhorse Strikeout Pitcher
Megan Betsa

April 19, 2017

By Steve Kornacki

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins found no reason to mince words about pitching ace Megan Betsa:

"She's pretty strong. She's carrying us right now."

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Betsa (18-6, 1.38 ERA) had plenty of offensive support in her previous three seasons, but these Wolverines haven't scored like those Sierra Romero-powered bash sisters. So, it's been more on Betsa to carry the load and pitch seven innings most games.

She went the distance in Tuesday night's (April 18) 3-1 win over Michigan State, fanning 14 batters and striking out the side in the last inning.

It took 164 pitches, and Betsa has only topped that once this season, throwing 190 against Florida in her second start. Yet, she still had her best stuff of the night on her final pitches.

"It's just endurance and something that we've worked on -- especially in the fall," said Betsa. "I was able to get my cardio up when I wasn't really able to do anything else. I did a lot to get my endurance up, and I'm just trusting that I have good stuff, trusting my spin."

Hutchins added: "Her spin is good enough. She felt like she was 80 percent tonight, and good, just spin it. You know, sometimes when you're tired you actually are a little more effortless. She gets more tired as she tries harder. I thought she did a nice job with that."

Betsa didn't throw during fall practices because she had a bad back, and Hutchins believes that will help her carry the load she's taken on this season.

"We talked about this last week," Hutchins said. "I said, 'The day of that Super Bowl, Tom Brady was probably real sore, tired and beat up, right? But you don't focus on that, you focus on just what you need to do. All he focused on was how he was dismantling the other team, and that's what you need to focus on.'

"And she's done a really great job of it. She's fit and didn't pitch all fall. So, she's got all those extra pitches, and she just has to stay focused on what she wants to accomplish. And I'd like to see our offense give her some better support so maybe we can...It gets tough out there when you have to be perfect, and I'm sure that crosses her mind. She's battled through a lot; Megan is tough."

Betsa has been quite simply amazing over the last week.

Here is what she's accomplished in four starts bringing four wins covering seven days: 28 innings pitched, 57 strikeouts, five earned runs and 14 hits allowed.

How has she been able to be so good while pitching so much?

"I'm working through some fatigue stuff as you can see," said Betsa. "It's just a lot of pitches out there, but I'm just trying to do my best to recover day to day and stay as fresh as possible.

"I've got some PT (physical therapy) and treatment plans for tomorrow, and I won't throw tomorrow or Thursday. I probably won't pick up a ball again until Friday. I might throw some long toss to loosen up Thursday, but for now the plan is to not throw."

She was off to get a massage immediately after speaking with reporters and has learned what it takes to be a workhorse.

Betsa

And through it all, Betsa has become more dominant.

Consider that she had 306 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings pitched in 2016. She has that exact same number of strikeouts in only 168 innings this season.

"In previous years I have been dominantly rise ball-changeup," explained Betsa, "and this year I've done a lot better job of mixing in curves drop and making sure I'm unpredictable, and I think that that's worked in my favor."

In these last four starts, Betsa has gotten 68 percent of her outs on strikes.

"There's really not anything too different about her," said shortstop Abby Ramirez, who had two hits while scoring once and driving in one run. "She's just really confident right now, and you can see it in her play. Also, when the offense isn't getting it done, she definitely knows: 'I've got to do my part.' And she's been amazing, lights out lately.

"It's really fun to play behind her, and she just has a certain aura about her that she's confident and nobody's going to hit the ball."

Betsa has 57 more strikeouts than any other major college pitcher and two no-hitters among nine shutouts this season.

She struck out 17 Spartans last Wednesday (April 12) and fanned 31 in the two starts in one week against them to get all but 11 of the outs on strikes.

These MSU hitters know her, and she knows them. So, it comes down to finding a way to keep hitters off balance.

"As they make adjustments," said Betsa, "I have to make adjustments. But I put my trust in Biggie (pitching coach Jennifer Brundage) for all that. It's all about pitch calling and trusting her. I just made it a lot harder on myself than I had to tonight, but it was just about fighting, and that's what I had to do."

Betsa struck out MSU cleanup hitter Kaitlyn Eveland three times and fanned No. 6 batter Kelcey Carrasco in all four at-bats.

Yet, she walked a season-high seven (one intentionally) and had the bases load with two outs in the sixth, clinging to a two-run lead.

One hit there could've tied the game or even put the Spartans ahead, but Betsa got Ebonee Echols to chase a low pitch for the third strike and third out.

"On the previous at-bats, we had got her on changeups and outside pitches," said Betsa, "and so we were sticking with that same game plan, and it worked in our favor."

Betsa became the first Wolverine to total three 300-strikeout seasons in this game and now ranks third in career strikeouts (1,095) and fifth with 95 victories. Yet, she said none of that record book rise is on her mind.

"I'm just trying to help my team win," said Betsa, "and get us back to the World Series."

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