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This week in U-M softball: Successful opening weekend, Clearwater preview

The Wolverines enter the Clearwater Invitational with a 4-1 record and back in the top-25.

2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Softball Championship Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

With their first weekend said and done, the 2023 season for the No. 25 Michigan Wolverines softball team has officially begun. It was a successful start, as they shook off an opening game loss and posted a perfect 4-0 record at The Spring Games, including a no-hitter.

The competition rears up significantly in the second weekend, however, with the Wolverines traveling back to Florida for the much-vaunted TaxAct Clearwater Invitational starting later this afternoon.

Here is this week's trip around the diamond.

Recapping the Weekend

In the Wolverines’ 2023 debut, sophomore right-hander Lauren Derkowski got the starting nod and performed admirably, recording a career high nine-strikeouts in a complete game. Unfortunately, hiccups on defense and a quiet day at the plate were the deciding factors, as the Wolverines fell to the USF Bulls, 2-1, with both of the Bulls’ runs unearned.

Michigan turned things around in a big way at The Spring Games, scoring more than five runs in all four games. In the first game against Colgate, outfielder Lexie Blair notched three hits and three runs scored, while catcher Keke Tholl posted three RBI en route to a 10-0 run-rule victory.

In the Saturday doubleheader against Western Kentucky, while both games finished in 5-2 victories for the Wolverines, they played out in polar opposite fashions. The first game was a wire-to-wire victory, while the second required ninth-inning heroics from Derkowski and second baseman Audrey LeClair.

The Wolverines finished the weekend against the Portland State Vikings, and did so in a dominant fashion. Despite giving up an unearned run in the sixth inning, right-hander Jessica LeBeau still recorded a no-hitter, 9-1, victory to conclude their Spring Games showing. The no-hitter was LeBeau’s first of her collegiate career.

Previewing Clearwater

With five games in three days — all against different opponents — Michigan has a battle on its hands in Clearwater, Florida this weekend.

The Wolverines start the weekend Friday at 3 p.m. against the No. 20 UCF Knights. Despite their ranking, the Knights have struggled to start the season; just one of their first five games has seen a final margin of victory higher than a single run, and they are coming off an 11-8 defeat to No. 23 Missouri on Wednesday. Despite the struggles, UCF still has a player to watch in junior outfielder Chloe Evans, who enters Friday with an early batting average over .530 and an OPS of 1.721.

Though they aren’t ranked, the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (Friday, 6 p.m.) received enough votes to come within two spots of a ranking. With a perfect 5-0 record — all of which by more than three runs — it’s not hard to see why. The player to watch for the Cajuns is starter Sam Landry, who’ll enter the circle on Friday having given up just one hit in two starts, while striking out 19 batters.

The main event for the Wolverines this weekend will be Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against the No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowgirls. The Cowgirls have already made a dominant start in Clearwater with a pair of run-rule victories against Texas A&M and Nebraska on Thursday. At 5-1 to start the season, they are as dominant as advertised. Leading the way is starter Kelly Maxwell, who’s posted a whopping 35 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched.

After starting the season in the top-25, a pair of losses to Iowa and Stony Brook have the Mississippi State Bulldogs (Saturday, 5 p.m.) on the back leg headed into Clearwater. Starter Aspen Wesley leads the Bulldogs’ pitching efforts with a 0.68 ERA and a 2-0 record.

Likewise, the No. 16 Duke Blue Devils (Sunday, 9 a.m.) are also on a shaky footing after posting a 3-3 record to start the year — losing three of their four ranked matchups. Catcher Kelly Torres is a formidable name in their lineup, posting a 1.358 OPS to start the year.