Softball Regional Preview & Season Review

Softball Regional Preview & Season Review

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on May 19th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

2017 Michigan Softball Season Review & Regional Preview

THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT

NCAA Softball Regional

WHERE

Husky Softball Stadium, Seattle, WA

WHEN

Friday-Sunday, May 19-21

TV

ESPN2 & ESPN3

THE SCHEDULE

The NCAA regional is a double-elimination tournament, so the only team Michigan is guaranteed to play is Fresno State; if all goes chalk, Michigan would play Washington in Game 3 and go from there. (All times Eastern, note that only the time of the first game each day is fixed.  Other games may start later, depending on the duration of earlier match-ups.)

Time

Game

Friday, May 19

 

9:00 p.m.

Game 1 -- #2 seed Michigan vs. #3 seed Fresno State (ESPN2)

11:30 p.m.

Game 2 -- #1 seed Washington vs. #4 seed Montana (ESPN3)

Saturday, May 20 

 

5:00 PM

Game 3 -- Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner (TV TBD)

7:30 PM

Game 4 -- Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser (TV TBD)

11:00 PM

Game 5 -- Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner (TV TBD)

Sunday, May 21

 

7:00 PM

Game 6 -- Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner (TV TBD)

9:30 PM

Game 7 -- Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser (if necessary) (TV TBD) 

 

Season Review

It is a testament to the stunning success of the 2015 and 2016 teams that this year has felt, at times, like something of a slog.  After winning 60 games in 2015 and 52 in 2016, with just 15 losses over the two years combined, this year’s mark of 41-11-1 has felt downright mediocre at times.  One could easily be forgiven for forgetting that Michigan only narrowly missed out on hosting post-season play for the 3rd straight year, and ranks in the top-25 in most offensive categories.  Success has a way of breeding high, even unreasonable, expectations, though, and there is no doubt that 2017 has been a bit of a reality-check after two years spent on the heights.  Before looking ahead to this weekend’s opposition, let’s take a look back at the ups and downs that brought us to this point.

As has happened all too often over the last few years of UM softball, the season began with heartbreak at the hands of the Florida Gators, who are beginning to look a lot like the Alabama of the sport.  Despite picking up a run against the usually unhittable Kelly Barnhill, and despite having runners 60 feet away from crossing home for a walk-off win in the 8th & 9th innings, the Wolverines couldn’t get it done, falling 2-1 to the eventual #1 national seed.

Each of Michigan’s early-season invitationals would be marred by frustration at the hands of top competition.  While the Wolverines weed-whacked their way through the weaker opponents on the schedule, they dropped games against ranked opponents like USF, Texas A&M, UCLA, Baylor, and Kentucky, along with a loss to unranked Notre Dame (38 in the RPI at season’s end).  The only ranked team Michigan was able to top was Arizona State, victims of 3-0 and 2-0 shut-outs at the hands of the Wolverines.  Along the way, another major frustration came in the form of a tie against Florida State.  After squandering a 1-run lead in the 7th, the game was called halfway through the 8th due to FSU’s flight plans.

After the ritual slaughter of a few MAC opponents to celebrate the team’s arrival at Alumni Field after over a month spent on the road, the Wolverines turned their attention to the Big Ten schedule.  The wins started to pile up, but a number of ominous signs continued to loom.  Tera Blanco had still not emerged into a top-level pitcher, and had to be lifted in favor of senior Megan Betsa on several occasions.  Betsa continued to prove herself to be an elite pitcher, but also piled up a massive pitch-count – a combination of having to throw 2 or more games every weekend and a strike-out based approach which often results in long, battling at-bats.  On the offensive side of the ball, production continued to be uneven at best.  Weak run-support was a major factor in a 5-0 loss at OSU, a 2-1 slip-up at Maryland, and – one of the lowest points of the season – a 1-0, 11-inning defeat at Wisconsin, in which Megan Betsa threw 7 innings worth of no-hit softball, surrendered one hit in the 8th, and then finally gave up a walk-off solo shot in the 11th.

Carol Hutchins was furious with the lack of production (and perhaps the lack of leadership as well), and sent 5 regular starters to the bench for the early innings of the following game.  The team got the hint, and when the starters were re-inserted, they went on a tear.  Wisconsin went down 10-2 in 5 innings that day and were blasted off their home field early again in the rubber game, falling 8-0 in 5.  Finally the bats seemed to be awake, as Michigan tore through the remainder of their schedule, outscoring Indiana 17-2 over a three game series, brushing aside Western Michigan 8-0 in 5, and finally, giving the football team a run for their money in the “Rutgers blow-out” department, winning 6-1, 19-1 (5 inn.), and 20-0 (5 inn.) in Piscataway.

While the 20-3 conference record that Michigan put up was better than several of the marks put up during the 9-year conference championship streak, it wouldn’t be good enough to keep pace with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who are in the midst of the greatest season in school history.  Nevertheless, optimism was high heading into the Big Ten tournament, as the second-seeded Wolverines prepared to host the event for the first time in over a decade.  Even better, Michigan was set to face a mediocre MSU squad they hadn’t lost to in years.  Things were looking good as the Maize & Blue held on to a 4-2 lead heading into the 7th, but an uncharacteristically erratic inning from Megan Betsa lead to a 5-4 loss and an early exit from the tourney.

In just a few short minutes last Friday, a narrative of a hot-and-cold team that had found its stride and was ready for a deep post-season run was thrown into disarray.  Questions now abound as to who the true Michigan is.  Are these the Wolverines that were one hit away from wins against Florida and Florida State, that have one of the best offenses in the nation, and that obliterated almost all of their conference opposition?  Or are they the team that slips up against the Marylands and MSUs of the world, and can’t get past ranked opponents?  Only time – and the NCAA regional – will tell.

Players to Watch

 Michigan brings a series of stars to the table this year, both offensively and defensively.  Below, we’ll take a look at two of the most important offensive leaders along with Michigan’s unquestioned ace in the circle.

Kelly Christner

Kelly Christner burst onto the scene as a sophomore, hitting a blistering .393 and crushing 21 home runs en route to First-Team All-American honors.  After a dip in production as a junior, Christner has found her way back to elite status as a senior.  While she hasn’t been able to replicate her power numbers from the Year of the Pizza two seasons back, as a senior she is hitting .414 for the year, reaching base in over half her at-bats.  Compared to her blazing start to the season, Christner took a bit of a step back in Big Ten play, hitting .375 with an OBP just under .500.  Even so, she is still one of the team’s most important offensive pieces and provides an essential element of senior leadership in the batting order.  Lately she has seemed more comfortable hitting from the lead-off spot, and her status as the team leader in stolen bases makes her a good candidate to start trouble on the base paths.  If she can produce at a high level, it will set a great tone for the rest of the team throughout the regional.

Faith Canfield

Another hitter to keep an eye on is sophomore utility player Faith Canfield.  As a freshman, Canfield was in and out of the line-up, hitting just .268, and she looked only incrementally improved in the early going of her second season in Ann Arbor.  Around the time conference play began, however, something clicked for Canfield, and she laid waste to Big Ten pitching, hitting a Romero-esque .462 in league play and slugging just a notch under .750.  On a team that lacks the power hitting of the last two years, Canfield – tied for the team lead in both doubles (with Aidan Falk) and home-runs (with Kelly Christner) – is one of the leading candidates to put the hurt on a ball and drive in a few runs.  Her aversion to strike-outs is another advantage; with only 7 on the year, you can count on her putting the ball in play when she steps to the plate.

Megan Betsa

No single player has been more critical to keeping Michigan softball on track in 2017 than senior RHP Megan Betsa.  Of her staggering 1,165 career strike-outs, 376 have come in 2017, her best statistical year as a Wolverine.  Her 23-8 record does not do full justice to her contributions to the team, as she faced all the toughest non-conference opponents, earned 5 saves in relief of Blanco, and has pitched both Friday and Sunday throughout Big Ten play.  Any concern arising from the shaky 7th inning against MSU in the Big Ten tournament should be balanced by her 1.31 ERA for the season (a sterling 0.86 in Big Ten play).

Betsa has been a major contributor to Michigan softball for four years now, pitching meaningful innings, including post-season games, each time around.  She is clearly among the nation’s elite statistically, leading the nation in strike-outs, ranking 3rd in strike-outs per 7 innings, 5th in shut-outs, 8th in saves, and 10th in hits allowed per 7 innings.  Her name is all over the Michigan record book as well, as she currently sits 3rd in career Ks and is tied with Haylie Wagner in 3rd place for career wins at 100 exactly.  Legacies are about more than stats, though, and at the beginning of this season, I proclaimed this the “Year of Betsa”.  A deep post-season run on the strength of her right arm in her final year would provide the perfect cement for her enduring position among the legends of Michigan softball.

Regional Opponents 

After back-to-back seasons hosting regional play, Michigan once again has to hit the road for the first round of the NCAA tournament.  Because of the tournament structure, Fresno State is the only opponent Michigan is guaranteed to face, but at least one showdown with Washington seems very likely, and a clash with Montana could come up as well if there’s an upset somewhere in the bracket.

Fresno State

We’ll start with an overview of Michigan’s Friday night opponent, the Bulldogs of Fresno State.  Despite finishing tied for 3rd in the Mountain West conference (which does not hold a conference tournament), FSU (NTFSU) managed to earn an at-large bid into the field of 64, narrowly edging out conference rivals San Diego State for one of the final spots in the field.  Fresno State challenged themselves in the non-conference schedule, taking on an array of major conference teams.  While they took it on the chin more than once, their aggressive scheduling strategy probably helped secure a spot in the tournament, as they ended the year 6-8 against the RPI top-50, and a highly-successful 5-2 against the RPI 26-50.  This is a team Michigan beats comfortably on a good day, but if there’s any hangover from the disappointment in the Big Ten tournament, they’re good enough to cause problems.

Looking at the Bulldogs’ line-up, the #1 threat is clearly Morgan Howe, who is hitting .438 on the year and slugging well over .600.  She brings a bit of home run power as well, having sent 6 over the wall this year.  After her, Malia Rivers seems to be the other prominent on-base threat, batting .355.  Unlike Howe, though, Rivers hasn’t hit a single homer and only has 4 extra-base hits all season, indicating a singles-based, small-ball profile.  No other Bulldogs are hitting meaningfully over .300, although they do have a few home run threats in Vanessa Hernandez (7 HR), Savannah McHellon (10 HR), and Lindsey Willmon (9 HR).  All three are strike-out-prone, however, especially McHellon, which could spell trouble with Betsa in the circle for the Wolverines.

In the circle, it’s a one-woman show for Fresno State, with the unfortunately-named Kamalani Dung starting more than twice as many games as anyone else and pitching almost 4 times as many innings as the next pitcher in line.  She leads the team with a 2.17 ERA, and her 202/91 K/BB numbers indicate a pitcher who likes to go for the K.  After her, Savannah McHellon sees the most action, but is a major step back.  In addition to her 4.32 ERA, McHellon has exhibited significant control problems, giving up more BBs than she picks up Ks.

Washington

Hosts and headliners of the regional, the Washington Huskies have been a major power at times over the last decade.  2009 National Champions, the Huskies are eager to return to the WCWS for the first time since 2013 (Washington ended the Wolverines’ season that year in a 4-1 affair).  As the #6 national seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, the Huskies will be a formidable opponent for Michigan to try to knock off.  Unlike some power-conference teams, the Huskies took on a decent helping of non-conference challenges, and earned wins against quality opponents including Auburn, Oklahoma, and, notably from a Big Ten perspective, Minnesota – the Gophers fell twice to the Huskies, 3-2 and 9-0.  In the PAC-12, the Huskies faced tough opposition on a weekly basis and earned key series wins against Arizona State, Oregon, and Utah.  They also swept the Crimson Tide during a break from league play.  The Huskies will come into this regional battle-tested and hungry to re-establish themselves among softball’s elite teams.

No one player stands alone atop the Huskies batting order, but with 4 separate players hitting right around .350, there’s plenty of power there.  Casey Stangel and Ali Aguilar are particularly notable in that group, as both have belted double-digit home runs on the year, as has Morganne Flores, a .338 hitter.  Stangel in particular is a bit strike-out prone, so Betsa may be able to exploit that a bit, but she makes up for it by slugging a team-leading .638.  Aguilar is a bit of a sore spot defensively for the Huskies, with 11 errors on the year, but she’s as tough an out as you can ask for at the plate.  Top to bottom, there just aren’t many weak spots in this line-up.  If the expected encounter between Michigan and Washington happens (and it’s likely to happen 2-3 times), the goal will be more to scatter hits than to prevent them entirely.  A few runs are likely to score in any event, so run support will be vital in this one.

In the circle, it’s all about sophomore Taran Alvelo.  Alvelo’s numbers aren’t eye-popping, but they’re very strong, especially when you consider that she’s been handling the bulk of the workload for a PAC-12 team.  With an ERA of 1.90 and a K/BB ratio of 2.57, Alvelo isn’t necessarily a dominating pitcher, but she gets the job done more often than not.  After their ace, the Huskies can trot out either of a pair of very similar back-ups.  Freshman Samantha Manti and junior Madi Schreyer have both started 13 games, and have ERAs at or near 3.  Schreyer has more control problems than Manti, with only 5 fewer BBs than Ks on the year.  This is a set of pitchers that Michigan can hit, but it’s not going to be easy to put up big numbers.  Given the strength of the Washington offense, the Wolverines will have to find a way to string hits together more than once if they want to get out of Seattle with the season still alive.

Montana

Michigan will only face the Grizz in the event of an upset somewhere along the line, but stranger things have happened.  Simply put, Montana is not an especially good softball team.  After finishing 2nd in the Big Sky conference in the regular season, the Grizz beat regular season champions Weber State twice in the conference tournament to secure their spot in the tournament.  Sitting at 124 in the RPI, Montana is an order of magnitude lower down than anyone else in the region, and their schedule gives a clue as to why.  After barely challenging themselves at all in the non-conference schedule (a couple of Ws over UNLV were the closest things they had to signature wins), they were pretty average in conference play as well, only sweeping two opponents prior to the conference tournament.  This looks to be a classic case of a team from a weak conference who is mainly just happy to be here.

Montana does have a pair of decent hitters atop their stat sheet, with Bethany Olea and Delene Colburn both hitting over .400 – Colburn has also jacked 14 long balls on the season.  No one else is hitting much over .300, however, and only one other player (Sydney Stites) has more than 5 homers.  Michaela Hood is the usual starter in the circle, and her 2.15 ERA and better than 3-1 K/BB ratio are respectable.  Colleen Driscoll and Maddy Stensby are the other two prominent pitchers, both putting up fairly non-descript numbers – Driscoll is a bit better overall, but more likely to give up a dinger.  Severe strength of schedule caveats apply to all these numbers, of course.  If Michigan ends up facing Montana and struggles much at all, it should be considered a major warning sign for what’s to come.

Overall

This is about as good of a situation as Michigan could have asked for after flaming out against MSU in the conference tournament.  True, it’s a tougher regional to get shipped to than some we’ve seen in the past, but it’s still a winnable one – we’re not talking about getting sent to Florida or Arizona here.  What’s more, if the team does advance, the most likely opponent would be the Utah Utes, who had an up-and-down non-conference season before picking up some impressive wins in PAC-12 play, highlighted by a 3-game sweep of UCLA and a series win over Arizona.  A trip back to the WCWS is still very much in play, but the team needs to leave their struggles behind and fire on all cylinders.  More than anything, the Wolverines will need their senior ace to deliver the best performance of her career.  If that happens, a trip to Oklahoma City for the 3rd straight year could still beckon for Team 40.

B1G Softball Tournament time: #7 seed MSU @ #2 seed MICHIGAN

B1G Softball Tournament time: #7 seed MSU @ #2 seed MICHIGAN

Submitted by rob f on May 12th, 2017 at 4:43 PM

Tune in to BTN if you haven't yet done so, as the game just started.  Betsa walked the first spartie, but mowed down the rest of the lineup with ease in the top of the first.

Bottom of 1, Michigan at bat, no score...

Betsa Chops Up Chips, Softball Tops CMU 2-0

Betsa Chops Up Chips, Softball Tops CMU 2-0

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on March 28th, 2017 at 5:48 PM

Team 40 travelled up to Mount Pleasant for a mid-week showdown with the CMU Chippewas this afternoon, and will be heading back to Ann Arbor with a 2-0 win in their pocket.

While the winning streak continued for the Maize & Blue, the offensive Rennaissance from the weekend did not, as the Wolverines struggled to generate anything at the plate.  Kelly Christner was the hero, driving in both of the Michigan runs, going 2-for-2 with a solo shot and an RBI single.  She also drew a walk to load the bases with no outs in the top of the 7th, but nothing came of the threat.

Fortunately, Megan Betsa made sure that none of that mattered today.  She carved up the CMU order, going the distance while allowing just one hit.  While her 9 Ks on the day are actually a little low by her standards, the senior ace extended her scoreless-innings streak to 36.

More importantly, the team is now on a 9-game winning streak.  The Northwestern Wildcats will put that to the test over the course of a 3-game series at Alumni Field this weekend.  The Cats are struggling this season, but did manage an upset over a ranked Wisconsin team last weekend.  Michigan will likely need all 3 of these just to keep pace with Golden Gophers in the conference standings.

Softball Shuts Out PSU in Big Ten Lid-lifter

Softball Shuts Out PSU in Big Ten Lid-lifter

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on March 24th, 2017 at 6:05 PM

Megan Betsa continued her stellar play in Michigan softball's Big Ten opener at Alumni Field today, weed-whacking her way through the Nittany Lions line-up to the tune of 14 Ks, while allowing only 3 hits and 1 walk, all of which came in separate innings.  An error in the 2nd allowed Penn State to briefly threaten, but Betsa came back with a K to slam the door.

The offensive struggles, unfortunately, continued in the early going, as the Wolverines were unable to put anything together in the first 4 innings.  Courtney Richardson broke the deadlock in the 5th with her 2nd home run of the year.  After a Natalie Peters hit and a wild-pitch, a bad-hop-single off the bat of Faith Canfield put the Maize & Blue up 2-0.  The Wolverines added one more the 6th, and that was more than enough for the senior ace to cruise home in the 7th.

Michigan takes their first game of league play 3-0.  They'll face Penn State twice more this weekend, on Saturday at 2 PM and on Sunday at 1 PM.  You may want to keep an eye on the Minnesota/Nebraska series as well, which will start in just a few minutes.

FSU Saved by the Bell against Softball [Update: ASU not so lucky!]

FSU Saved by the Bell against Softball [Update: ASU not so lucky!]

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 26th, 2017 at 8:56 PM

For the 2nd time in 2017, the softball team took a #1 ranked team from the Sunshine State to extra innings.  This time, the opponents were the Seminoles of Florida State, as a see-saw game couldn't be settled in regulation.  Megan Betsa had some difficulties against a powerful FSU line-up, but got big outs when she needed them to keep the team in the game.

Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, we got to see some very encouraging signs as 8 different players got hits, and Tera Blanco, who has been slumping in the early going, smacked a pair, including a 2-RBI ball to the fence to give Michigan short-lived 5-4 lead in the B6.

FSU tied the game at 5 in the 7th, and the Wolverines couldn't get anything going in their half of the inning, so the game went to extras.  Even the international tie-break rule (runner placed at 2nd to start the inning) wasn't enough to get FSU on the board in their half of the inning, as Betsa weed-wacked their hitters, slinging 3 Ks.  Michigan never got their turn, however, as the strict time requirements forced the game to end early.

This has to feel like a brutal missed opportunity, as well as highway-robbery, for the team to come so close, and end up not even getting the same opportunities that the 'Noles got.  Even so, we saw some great signs here, and if any tie can boost the resume, it would certainly be this one.

Game 2 of the day is underway, with the Wolverines up 1-0 on ASU in the B1.

UPDATE: Softball downs ASU 3-0, finally tallying a W over a ranked opponent.  Blanco looked better than she has all season, blanking the Sun Devils for 6 innings before Betsa stepped in to strike out the side 1-2-3 in the B7.  Great way to end the weekend!

Softball Sneaks Past NMSU 5-4

Softball Sneaks Past NMSU 5-4

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 24th, 2017 at 3:28 PM

Softball's struggles continued today on the West Coast, but fortunately did not prove costly.  Blanco had a bumpy ride as the starting pitcher against New Mexico State, with 3 earned runs charged the her name in just 3 innings of work.  Betsa came in facing a serious jam & pushed a few runners across on free passes, but settled in and delivered 4 innings of hitless ball to give the Wolverines a chance.

Offensively, it was all about the top of the order.  Peters & Ramirez both got two hits, and those hits turned into 4 runs as Kelly Christner drove them both home twice.  In the 3rd, Christner gave Michigan the lead with a 2 RBI bloop single, and in the 6th, Christner launched a 3-run blast to put Michigan ahead for good.  The rest of the offense was stagnant, as the 4-9 hitters never reached base once against the Aggies.

At the end of the day, it's a win coming off a long flight & a time-zone change.  With match-ups against 3 ranked teams looming in the next 2 days, though, Team 40 will need to elevate their game in order to get what they want out of this road trip.

Betsa, Christner Combine to Crush NC State

Betsa, Christner Combine to Crush NC State

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 17th, 2017 at 7:10 PM

The softball team was back in action tonight, but didn't play for all that long.  The Wolverines hamblasted the NC State Wolfpack 12 -0 in a 5 inning, run-rule decision.  Betsa led the way in the circle, striking out 9 in 4 innings of work, ceding just one hit and no runs before handing things off to sophomore Leah Crockett in the fifth.

Betsa's first-rate pitching was overshadowed, however, by a performance for the ages at the dish by Kelly Christner.  Christner turned a 4-run lead into a blow-out in the 2nd inning with a grand slam, and that was just the beginning.  Christner came back with a solo shot in the 4th and a 2-run blast in the fifth to make it three long balls on the day.  The three homers tie a program single-game record, as Christner becomes the first Wolverine since Dorian Shaw to manage the feat.

Michigan will get an early start tomorrow, facing Notre Dame at 10 AM, followed by a 3 PM rematch with this same NCSU squad.

Softball Team 40 Wins Opener [Update: Wins Game 2 Also]

Softball Team 40 Wins Opener [Update: Wins Game 2 Also]

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 10th, 2017 at 2:11 PM

Team 40 opened their season today with a 7-0 thumping of an over-matched Delaware squad.  Just missing out on a run-rule win, the Wolverines got production from all up & down the order.  Newcomers to the line-up Natalie Peters & Courtney Richardson both impressed.  Meanwhile, Megan Betsa was absolutely dazzling in the circle, getting 15 of her 21 outs via the strike-out.  Game 2 against Illinois State just now getting underway.

Season preview will be up soon - technical difficulties with the photos have it delayed at the moment.

Update: Michigan wins game 2 over Illinois State 4-2 behind a solid performance from Tera Blanco.  The offense was a bit sluggish, but Courtney Richardson's 3-run homer put Michigan up by multiple runs, and Blanco made it hold up.  One mistake by Blanco turned into an ISU 2-run homer, but outside of that, she did an excellent job shutting down a tough line-up.

Softball Super-Regional Preview

Softball Super-Regional Preview

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on May 26th, 2016 at 9:29 AM

[Ed-S: We asked SBW to cover one of the best teams in Michigan sports history. Previously: Postseason primer]

All photos from Bryan Fuller

Regional Review

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.

Valparaiso

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.

Miami (NTM)

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.

Notre Dame

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]

Michigan Softball 2016 Season Preview

Michigan Softball 2016 Season Preview

Submitted by South Bend Wolverine on February 9th, 2016 at 2:00 PM

[Bumped (and added some photos) because it's good and so is our softball team. --Seth]

http://media.mlive.com/ann-arbor_photos/photo/17263168-standard.jpg

Sprinkle the cheese

It’s hard to put the experience of Michigan’s 2015 softball season into words.  It was totally unique in so many ways.  Michigan fans were desperate for something to go right after hockey, basketball, and football all came up well short of pre-season expectations.  Jim Harbaugh was making headlines, but concrete results were still months away, and the Michigan community was still convalescing from its long bout of Brandonitis.  It was the perfect time for niche sport to make a bid for mainstream status, as fans needed something, anything to go right, to make things feel like Michigan again.

Into this void stepped a group of twenty young women, swinging bats and making pizza as they blasted their way through the country and the Big Ten, into the record books and Maize and Blue hearts nationwide.  The team combined absurd offensive production and strong pitching with an unmatched rootability factor.  Whether on TV or in person, this team was fun.  When Lauren Haeger’s Gators bounced them in the last game of the season, it felt like an injustice, just like Trey Burke missing out on his crown or the Legend of Shawn Hunwick falling short against Minnesota-Duluth.

The difference between those crimes and this one, however, is that Michigan has a chance to put things right.  Almost everyone is back from the 2015 squad, and there’s no question that they’ve been working harder than ever all offseason to earn what was denied them a year ago.  It’s a new year with fresh faces and stiff competition, but this is a team on a mission.  Below, we’ll break down roster changes, offense and defense, and the opposition Michigan will face in the season ahead.  2016 isn’t going to be 2015 all over again, and Hutch and her crew are smart enough not to try to make it that.  It just might be a little bit better.

[Hit THE JUMP to see what that team lost and what to expect from this one]