ANN ARBOR - Entering the final stretch to its season, the University of Michigan softball team is once again one of the pre-eminent teams in the country.
Ranked second by both major polls, the Wolverines were atop the Big Ten standings by one game entering this weekend's home-and-home series with Michigan State. Should the Wolverines hold on to the lead - they close the regular season at Iowa this upcoming weekend - they will win their 13th Big Ten championship and third consecutive.
UM, 42-6 overall and 14-1 in the Big Ten, has won 21 of its last 22 games. It trails only Washington in the national polls.
Pitchers Jordan Taylor (22-3) and Nikki Nemitz (16-3) have split turns frustrating opposing batters. Taylor boasts a 1.45 ERA and 255 strikeouts in 1632/3 innings of work, while Nemitz has been a tremendous second option, yielding just 33 earned runs in 1182/3 innings for a 1.95 ERA.
In April, Taylor tossed two perfect games over three starts.
Six Wolverine hitters have batting averages over .320 led by Maggie Viefhaus' .383. A senior captain, Viefhaus has hit 15 home runs and driven in 44 RBI.
UM coach Carol Hutchins is a jarring 1,149-399-4 in 26 seasons with the program. She guided the Wolverines to the 2005 national championship and she'll be looking to send UM to its 10th consecutive appearance in the College World Series.
PENDLETON PRODUCING: Freshman Erin Pendleton, a Woodmore graduate, was named the Big Ten's field athlete of the week for the second straight week. On May 1 she set a freshman school record in the discus with a throw of 56.87 meters (186-07 feet) at the Jesse Owens Classic at Ohio State. Pendleton won the event, just as she did at the Drake Relays the week before.
Pendleton, a two-time state champion, now has the nation's top throw in the discus - 0.15-meter better than Oklahoma's Brittany Borman.
Pendleton's sister, Emily, has won four discus titles this spring and took third to Erin at UM's past two meets.
The Wolverines hosted the Len Paddock Invitational this weekend and will travel to Indiana next weekend for the Big Ten championships.
TALENTED TENNIS: Singles player Denise Muresan and the doubles team of Whitney Taney and Rika Tatsuno of the No. 4 Wolverines tennis team have received invitations to the NCAA tournament May 25-31 at Georgia. It will be the first time since 2004 UM has had competitors in both singles and doubles at the NCAA tournament.
Muresan, the Big Ten player of the year, is 32-12 overall and ranked No. 19. Taney and Tatsuno are also ranked 19th and are 23-2 in dual matches.
UM is the No. 4 seed in the NCAA team championship and will host Illinois-Chicago on Friday in a regional matchup. Should the Wolverines prevail they will advance to play the winner of DePaul and Ohio State the following day.
UM men's players Jason Jung and Evan King will represent the Wolverines at the NCAA men's championships.
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