Blanco Polo: Michigan softball searches to fill the void
Meghan Beaubien, perhaps, knows better than anyone.
“We graduate one and bring in another,” the sophomore pitcher said Tuesday evening.
Four-year starting first baseman and veteran pitcher, Tera Blanco, has left a void in the No. 19 Michigan softball team’s rotation and batting order. While most softball programs are able to rely on a rotation of two or three strong pitchers, Blanco’s graduation has left Beaubien the sole pitcher with significant experience returning this spring.
Beaubien started her college career with a bang last year – playing in over 50 games and pitching three complete-game no-hitters — earning both the Big Ten Freshman and Pitcher of the Year titles.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to come back from a really great season,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “I think that’s probably Meghan’s biggest challenge.”
Not only will Beaubien face high expectations this year, but she will also face off against opponents who know how she pitches.
“Everyone prepares for the opponent’s best pitcher,” Hutchins said. “There’s a lot of scouting out there on her and we asked her to come back with better spin. Spin the ball, break it more and obviously mix it up a little more.”
Of course, Beaubien won’t have Blanco alongside her in the rotation either. The physical exhaustion of playing so many consecutive innings, potentially, took its toll on Beaubien as her performance began to falter in the last few games of the season. In the last five games of the year, Beaubien had a 3.19 ERA, more than two points above her season average of 1.16. That is one mistake the Wolverines do not want to repeat.
“If I had my wish, I’m hoping for a good step up pitcher,” Hutchins said. “We have our sights set on Alex Storako, a freshman. We think she’s going to give us some innings, some really good innings.”
Added Beaubien: “I spend a lot of time with (Storako) as pitchers. She stands out to me, personally. I think she’s got a lot of passion and fight in her. She’s a very hard worker. She’s very driven. I know pitching that Alex will definitely have an impact. ”
Though both pitchers have been training side-by-side all year, they each bring very different skill-sets to the mound. While Beaubien focuses on speed, Storako is more of a spin pitcher.
“I like (Storako’s) moxie,” Hutch said. “I like her presence on the mound. She’s a totally different pitcher from Beaubien. I like the fact that they’re so different.”
The pitching rotation is rounded out by sophomore pitcher Sarah Schaefer, who ended last season with 26 appearances and a 1.57 ERA. How many innings these two will take off of Beaubien’s hands is unclear at this point.
“We need some innings from Sarah Schaefer,” Hutchins said. “We definitely need her to give us some innings. How much is yet to be determined. She’ll determine that when she gets her opportunities.”
Blanco’s presence won’t just be missed on the mound, but also at the plate. The graduated senior led the Wolverines last year, both with 44 runs batted in and a .495 on-base percentage. The Wolverines will have to adapt their offensive strategy in the coming season.
“Tera was a huge bat,” Uden said. “I’m interested to see how we will adjust to it. I think there’s a little bit of a different dynamic. She had a little bit more power. I think our girls this year are line-drive hitters. We’re going to get a lot of bases. Tera got us a lot of runs but we’re going to go base to base this year I think.
“I’m not so sure if anyone’s going to fill her role, but we’re going to pick up in areas where it will fill the gap.”