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Michigan ready for three-game homestand against Illinois

Sidney Krandall/Daily
Sophomore outfielder Nicole Sappingfield will bat second against Illinois in this weekend's series. Buy this photo

By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 26, 2012

It was a long week for Michigan softball.

After dropping two of three games against Minnesota last weekend in Minneapolis, the 22nd-ranked Wolverines (12-3 Big Ten, 32-13 overall) had a lot to focus on as they got ready to face Illionois (5-10, 21-22) in a three-game home series.

After losing consecutive contests to a Big Ten opponent for the first time since 2007, it was clear that the culprit was once again the offense.

In the first game of the series, Michigan only had two hits, and didn’t improve much in the second game, where they only had six.

Things began to turn around on Sunday, during the third game of the series, when the Wolverines were able to escape in extra innings and get 12 hits.

“I think the main thing we need to do is put (Minnesota) behind us,” said junior shortstop Amy Knapp. “You learn a lot from losing and we (especially) learned a lot on Sunday.”

The weekend showing made Michigan fall in the rankings yet again, dropping from 20th to 22nd.

“We don’t focus on ranking, we focus at where we’re at,” Knapp said. “We know we can do it. We just have to keep working and focus on what’s next.”

Returning home to face Illinois presents a good opportunity for the Wolverines to find their momentum again — Michigan has won eight consecutive games over the Fighting Illini.

“We love being at home,” said senior center-fielder Bree Evans. “We feed off of our fans (and) we have to protect our home field.”

The Wolverines are 7-1 at Alumni Field this season — a place where they’ve had offensive success all season. Four of the eight home games have ended early because of the mercy rule, and the other three home victories were shut outs.

Despite a successful homestand, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has been moving batters around to find an order that brings more offensive consistency.

“We change the lineup a lot,” Hutchins said. “We’re just trying to make changes that might give us a boost. You can look at our stats over the last 10 to 15 games and we’re putting in the people with the best batting average at this point.”

Meanwhile, the Wolverines need to look to the mound for help this weekend.

If Michigan wants to extend its success at home they will have to make sure its pitchers — freshman left-hander Haylie Wagner and freshman right-hander Sara Driesenga — can keep Illinois’ senior left-fielder Alex Booker and senior first baseman Meredith Hackett offensively in check.

Booker and Hackett lead the Fighting Illini with batting averages of .303 and .300, respectively, and will be the keys to Illinois’ success.

Saturday's doubleheader will be broadcast live on Big Ten Network, beginning at 3:30 p.m.


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