The Maryland softball team had lost seven of eight games — including three run-rule defeats — heading into its Tuesday doubleheader against Rutgers.
But rather than scold her team prior to facing the Scarlet Knights, coach Julie Wright offered her team an apology.
“When they’re struggling, it’s my job to find the right button to push,” Wright said. “So I told them I’m going to take ownership of all those L’s, and I wanted them to go out, have fun and be aggressive.”
The Terps’ offense responded by scoring 13 combined runs in a doubleheader sweep. This weekend, they’ll try to sustain that success against No. 14 Michigan, who will present them with a much tougher test.
The Wolverines (35-7, 10-1 Big Ten) are set apart by their stellar pitching. Michigan ranks third in the nation with a 1.08 ERA. Earlier this year, the Terps (18-27, 7-7 Big Ten) swept Iowa, the conference’s second-best pitching team, but they’ve yet to compete against a pitching staff as strong as the Wolverines.
While Maryland has faltered against similar competition this season, they feel their mission is simple heading to Ann Arbor.
“We just need to stay prepared and go for it,” outfielder Amanda Brashear said.
The Wolverine staff is led by the best pitcher in the Big Ten, left-hander Meghan Beaubien. The freshman leads the conference with 25 wins, 183 strikeouts and a 0.81 ERA, and she’s fanned more batters on her own than half of the pitching staffs in the nation.
The Terps will also likely contend with at least one of Michigan’s two other talented hurlers. Senior Tera Blanco has been a solid No. 2 starter, pitching to a 1.33 ERA, and freshman Sarah Schaefer has a 1.48 ERA in limited innings, mainly out of the bullpen.
The Wolverine’s pitching staff is backed by a spectacular defense, which is tied with No. 2 Oklahoma for the nation’s best fielding percentage.
While the Terps will need excellent performances from their pitchers, their most important task of the weekend will be to score runs, which they have failed to do even against unranked teams this season in addition to more highly touted opponents.
In seven games against ranked teams this year, Maryland has scored just five runs. Rather than looking back at those past struggles, the Terps are focusing mainly on themselves before the weekend.
“We just need to keep our bats alive and keep working together,” first baseman Jacqui Pascual said.
While Maryland has not upset a ranked team this year — after having three such wins last season — Wright thinks this team shares the energy and the mentality that allowed last year’s squad to beat top-flight competition.
“We’re a high-energy team, [and] I’m a high-energy coach. That catches people off-guard sometimes,” Wright said. “We do not care who we are playing.”