Freshman pitching carries U-M softball

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Entering this season, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins had good reason to be concerned with her pitching. All-American Jordan Taylor graduated. In her place, more than likely, were going to be two pitchers, Sara Driesenga and Haylie Wagner, who had never thrown a college pitch.

So far this season, if there has been one consistent thing for Michigan it has been this -- even if they give up some runs, their pitching has not been a problem.

Michigan shut a team out in back-to-back games for the first time since the Wolverines had four straight shutouts in the FAU Kickoff Classic on February 17-19 this weekend, beating Michigan State 2-0 in the first game of a doubleheader Sunday, and 5-0 in the second game.

It was the third straight shutout for Michigan, which beat the Spartans (11-30, 0-12 Big Ten) 8-0 on Saturday.

“That was the most impressive stat of the weekend, that they didn’t get any runs. I’m sure their coach is not too happy with that,” Hutchins said. “They did a nice job and we tag-teamed with Sara (Driesenga) and Haylie (Wagner) and made it work.”

Combined, the two freshmen have been the pitcher of record for Michigan in every game this season but one. And Wagner has handled many of the bigger games on the schedule, the assignments Taylor would usually garner during her career.

And during doubleheaders like Sunday, Hutchins has had little problem going to Driesenga in one game and Wagner in the other.

It is an effective strategy, too, as their styles are completely different.

“It’s the differences between us,” Driesenga said. “I’m more of a drop ball pitcher and Haylie has more of an up, so we complement each other well.”

The freshmen pitchers are just two-thirds of an all-freshmen battery for Michigan, which starts Wagner’s AAU teammate, Lauren Sweet, at catcher.

That familiarity showed immediately for Wagner, who is now 21-4 this season. For three years they played together, so the transition went well in part because they knew each other so well.

They committed within days of each other but rarely talked about playing together in college. It just kind of happened.

“It’s very comfortable and I just know how she works and she knows how I pitch,” Wagner said. “It’s kind of a special thing.”

It has turned into a special battery at Michigan (30-11, 11-1 Big Ten). Wagner has now won her last nine decisions and could end up in the school’s Top 10 in single season wins -- something a Michigan pitcher has done every year since 2007.

Much of that -- the pitching of Driesenga and Wagner and the catching of Sweet -- is in part due to pitching coach Jen Brundage, who is one of the better game-callers in the country.

For Michigan, the best part about the way the three have played is there is still room for growth.

“They are not where they want them to be yet,” Hutchins said. “As good as they’ve been, they are not nearly as good as they are going to be.”

Which means at Michigan, the strong pitching the Wolverines have had in the past will continue to grow in the future.