[Ed-S: We asked SBW to cover one of the best teams in Michigan sports history. Previously: Postseason primer]
All photos from Bryan Fuller
The Ann Arbor regional featured one of the more noteworthy upsets of the opening weekend of the NCAA softball tournament. Fortunately for Michigan, it didn’t happen to us. The Maize & Blue marched through the regional with relative ease, not quite hitting on all cylinders, but never seriously threatened either. Before looking ahead to the upcoming super-regional showdown with the Missouri Tigers, let’s take a quick look back at how Michigan became one of 16 teams in the nation lucky enough to go to practice this week.
The Wolverines started the weekend off against a Valparaiso team still trying to figure out just how they found their way into the tournament in the first place. With a record well below .500, the Horizon League tournament champions were one of the strangest sights in regional play in years. Michigan didn’t wait long to get on the board, with senior super-star Sierra Romero lining what’s known in Ann Arbor as a “Rom-Bomb” over the wall in the first inning. In addition to giving Michigan an early lead, the solo shot gave Romero her 300th career RBI. The Wolverines added a couple more in the 2nd, but were not able to fully solve Valpo’s pitching until the 5th inning, when all Hell broke loose. 5 singles earned Michigan 3 runs and brought about a pitching change. The change didn’t help, as the relief pitcher walked the next three batters on only 14 pitches to drive in the game-ending runs. Megan Betsa was majestic in the circle, ceding just one hit and one walk while piling up 9 Ks in the 8-0 run-rule walkover.
On Saturday, Michigan was expecting a tougher challenge, and they got one from an unexpected source. Instead of the presumptive challenger Notre Dame, the Maize & Blue had to square off against Miami (NTM), who had upset the Irish with a controversial 3-2 win on Friday. Betsa was again phenomenal, but the story of the early part of the game was Redhawks hurler Amber Logemann, who didn’t allow a hit until the 4th inning. In the 4th, though, Michigan showed a tendency familiar to anyone who watched the 2015 NCAA tournament. A good pitcher can get through Michigan’s order once, maybe twice. After that, though, the offense starts to lock in on tendencies & weaknesses, and the runs can come in bunches. 2 runs in the 4th led to 4 more in the 6th, and Michigan finally had the breathing room they wanted. Hutch took advantage of the extra cushion, resting ace Megan Betsa for the rest of the game. After a wobbly start put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Driesenga retired the next 6 batters she faced on 6 consecutive ground-outs, securing a 6-0 win.
To no one’s surprise, the Irish shook off their Friday funk and emerged from the losers’ bracket to face Michigan in the regional final on Sunday. The Irish have seen their season end in Ann Arbor again and again in recent years, and would need to take 2 in a row from #2 Michigan to avoid the same fate in 2016. Sierra Romero sent a message early on that the “luck of the Irish” wasn’t going to apply in Ann Arbor, getting her money’s worth on her 300th career hit, launching a first-inning long ball for the 2nd time on the weekend (the blast was also good for her 299th career run scored, extending her own NCAA record). Another Sierra home run, this one from Sierra Lawrence, put Michigan up 2-0, but an unexpected blast from Irish lead-off hitter Karley Wester trimmed the lead back down to 1. Again it took a few innings for Michigan’s bats to acquire target-lock, but when the Irish gifted Romero 1st base on an error to start the 5th, the Wolverines were determined to take advantage. A bunt single & a walk loaded the bases, and singles from Aidan Falk and Lindsay Montemarano stretched the lead to 6-1. The Irish would get one back in the 6th, but never seriously threatened to catch up to the heavy favorites.
On the weekend, Michigan outscored their opponents a combined 20-2. On a historical note, Sierra Romero joined the extremely exclusive 300/300 club (hits & RBIs), and moved to just one run away from creating an entirely new 300/300/300 club (hits, RBIs, & runs-scored). For a team of Michigan’s caliber, the victories were expected, and celebrations were moderate compared to scenes around the country. The Wolverines will not be satisfied with anything less than a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, and they know that just one team stands between them and that goal.
[Hit THE JUMP for a Super-regional preview]
I thought about a snarky title for Penn State, but I thought better of it.
Underway, top 1
Big Ten Network has the game.
After blowing away Rutgers almost as efficiently as possible yesterday, Michigan faces off against the Scarlet Knights again today. A win would clinch the Big Ten Championship, so you can be the team will be locked in! Driesenga in the circle, let's get this underway.
Voting thru May 9th http://www.seniorclassaward.com/vote/softball_2016/. Yes she's far behind but damn the torpedoes!, let's light that voting count up for Kelsey thru May 9th!
Just saw today that Senior Kelsey Susalla, the UT player for Michigan Softball, is a candidate for the National Senior Class Award. Per the site, it's an award that "honors the attributes of NCAA Division I senior student-athletes in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition. The award program is designed exclusively for college seniors who are utilizing their complete athletic eligibility, remaining committed to their university and pursuing the many rewards a senior season can bring."
Kelsey is way behind in the voting and needs our votes here: http://www.seniorclassaward.com/vote/softball_2016/. Voting continues thru May 9th so let's do what we do, support one of our own who's an outstanding representative of the type of quality student-athlete Michigan produces!
For the third time in 3 days, the Michigan Wolverines sent the Maryland Terrapins home early, walking off in the 6th with an 8-0 run-rule victory. It was Sierra Romero day at Alumni Field, and Michigan's star didn't disappoint. She struck early with a trademark ROM-BOMB in the first inning, giving the Michigan a lead they would not relinquish. The entire line-up was active today, as every starter reached base at least once, and only one failed to record a hit.
As much as we all love to see the hits pile up, though, those familiar with Carol Hutchins will know that her favorite thing about today was the big "zero" on the board for Maryland. Megan Betsa continued her mid-season resurgence, going 6 strong, ceding just one hit while striking out 8 Terp batters. All weekend long, the Wolverine pitchers were locked in, allowing just 1 run in 16 innings. The upward trend in the circle more than anything bodes well for a post-season run.
Elsewhere around the Big Ten, Minnesota was effectively dealt a loss today by the skies rather than the Cornhuskers, as their planned match-up with Nebraska had to be cancelled. This means that Michigan & Minnesota could finish the season tied in the loss column, and Michigan would still win the outright Big Ten Championship because of the extra win (unless, of course, we suffer a rain-out as well). It would've been better for us to have Nebraska win, but a little extra breathing room is ok either way.