The final game of the 2005 Big Ten Tournament will serve as a rubber game for the season series between top-ranked Michigan and Iowa. The Hawkeyes took the first game in Ann Arbor, 5-2, but the wolverines bounced back the next day to even it up, by winning, 3-1.
In the first game, Iowa senior Lisa Birocci threw a complete game, striking out six, while allowing only two earned runs on seven hits. Second baseman Summer Downs and third baseman Abby Ruff provided much of the offense for Iowa in that game. Downs was one-for-three with a homerun, and Ruff went a similar one-for-three, but drove in two, while scoring once herself. All of the Hawkeyes' runs came off Lorilyn Wilson in the first 1.2 innings, before Jennie Ritter came in to relieve her. For the Wolverines, Grace Leutele provided U-M's only RBI by going deep off Birocci.
In the second game, Ritter started the game, and in doing so effectively ended it. Allowing only one run on three hits in seven full innings, Ritter shut down the Hawkeyes. On offense for Michigan, freshman Samantha Findlay went three-for-four and Jessica Merchant was two-for-three with an RBI.
The Michigan roster leads like a who's who of the nation's elite. Senior shortstop Jessica Merchant and junior pitcher Jennie Ritter are both among the 10 finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award. Merchant is batting .379 on the year with a team-high .757 slugging percentage. Her 17 homeruns ties for the team lead and her three triples are the most for any Wolverine this year. She is second on the team in runs scored, hits, RBI, and on-base percentage.
Haas and senior Nicole Motycka are also towards the top of all team categories. Seven Wolverines are batting above .300 this year and as a team, the Maize and Blue is batting .324. Findlay has also contributed for U-M, batting .351 and belting 17 homeruns. Her .750 slugging percentage is the second best on the team.
Ritter was named the 2005 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, and she is towards the top of conference standings in most of the pitching statistics. Her 0.93 ERA is third in the conference, behind teammates Nicole Motycka (0.82) and Lorilyn Wilson (0.88). She is also tied with Iowa's Lisa Birocci with a league-best 26 wins compared to only a single loss, Ritter leads the Big Ten with a .962 winning percentage. Opponents are batting only .141 against her, second lowest in the conference.
Birocci's 1.14 ERA is the third best of regular starting pitchers, while she earned a conference best 26 wins. Birocci is third in the league in strikeouts with 238 in 226.2 innings pitched. She has thrown complete games in 25 of the 30 games in which she has started, which is the most in the Big Ten. Twelve of the seniors' complete games have been shutouts.
Arnold has had a successful junior year as well. With an ERA of 1.53 that ranks in the league's top 10, Arnold is fifth in the conference with 20 wins. Half of her 26 games started have been complete game efforts with 196 strikeouts, the sixth most in the Big Ten.
First team All-Big Ten honoree Mindy Heidgerken and second teamer Kylie Murray have been two of the most productive Hawks this year. Murray leads the team with a .359 batting average and is second on the team in RBI with 39. Heidgerken's three triples are a team high and her speed has aided her on the base paths with 21 steals on 22 attempts.
Freshman Emily Nichols broke the school's single season homerun record this year and finished the regular slate with 16. Playing both catcher and first base, Nichols has batted .315 with a team-best .711 slugging percentage.