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Michigan uses a machine to prepare for Kentucky’s Schoonover

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The Michigan softball team’s pitching machine has been used extensively over the past two weeks.

Last week, the Wolverines increased the speed of the machine to prepare for Maryland right-hander Courtney Wyche, whose blazing fastball tops out in the low 70s.

And this week, the machine takes the form of another pitcher. Michigan will likely face Kentucky right-hander Stephanie Schoonover in their first NCAA Tournament game, so they’ve set up the machine to suit her pitching style.

“We don’t have anyone on our coaching staff right now that can pitch like Schoonover,” Wolverines coach Bonnie Tholl said on May 14. “So we set up a machine to try to model her performance, location and speed.”

Like Schoonover, the machine will stomp on the third base side of the plate. For lefties, there is no change in their preparation for Wyche, whose strategy is to keep the ball out against all hitters. The machine will also prepare Michigan for Schoonover’s varied repertoire of pitches: a Screwball, Curveball and Riseball, which she tries to get hitters to chase upfield.

Schoonover hasn’t exactly set the world on fire lately. Over her last three outings, she gave up 12 earned runs in nine innings pitched, including three runs in three innings against Ole Miss in the Wildcats SEC Tournament first round loss.

But the Wolverines’ offense hasn’t provided much of a spark lately either. In their three Big Ten Tournament games, Michigan averaged fewer than five hits per game, with much of their scoring coming from the opponent’s mistakes. In the first round against Maryland, the Terrapins walked in the first three runs of the game before imploding in a 10–0 run-rule loss. And in their finals victory, the Wolverines scored two of their three runs on an error following a ground ball to the pitcher. On the other hand, Schoonover and Kentucky won’t be handing Michigan runs on a silver platter, despite her rough outings of late.

Schoonover’s recent struggles stemmed from the SEC schedule, as all thirteen of the league’s teams received bids to the NCAA tournament – a feat no other conference has ever accomplished. Still, she managed to maintain a 2.76 ERA on the season while pitching 159.2 innings, good for seventh in the conference.

With the Wildcats’ tough schedule, Schoonover rose to the occasion against some of the nation’s toughest offenses. In non-conference games, she held No. 8 Stanford to zero earned runs in an eight-inning complete game victory. She also delivered a two-hit complete game shutout against No. 16 Texas A&M in April.

The Wolverines expect to see the best version of Schoonover, a senior making her final run at a College World Series. And during today’s practice, preparing for Schoonover was a priority for the Wolverines’ offense.

“We had a chance to … see a little bit of what we’ll see in Kentucky pitchers,” Tholl said.

With their intense preparation for Schoomaker, Michigan’s hitters won’t be fascinated by her arsenal of breaking balls. The Wolverines will be able to continue to focus on their own process as they have prioritized all year.

Michigan’s hitters may make minor adjustments to adjust for her off-speed stuff and keep their bat paths on the third base side of the plate, but they will keep their mentality the same

“(I’m keeping) my mentality (the same),” sophomore third baseman Maddie Erickson said on May 14. you don’t play Michigan softball anymore.

After missing the tournament last year, Friday’s game against Kentucky will be the first NCAA Tournament experience for many players on the young Wolverines squad. In addition to preparing for Schoonover, they will also have to deal with the jitters and nerves that come with playing on the university’s largest softball stage.

To ease those nerves, Michigan’s hitters are focusing on themselves while learning Schoonover’s tendencies. They know the pitching machine will have them ready.