May 13, 2013 - 11:04am
BY ERIN LENNON
Despite an early exit from the Big Ten tournament, the Michigan softball team earned the nation’s No. 8 seed and will host an NCAA regional final this weekend.
The Wolverines (20-3 Big Ten, 45-11 overall) will face Valparaiso on Friday at 7 pm. Central Michigan and No. 20 California will round out the regional, which utilizes double-elimination format.
Valparaiso (34-25) clinched a spot in the Big Dance after winning the Horizon League Championship. Following two wins over Eastern Michigan, the Crusaders lost seven straight games and failed to win a series until the conference championship. A late-season offensive surge from outfielder Amanda Korbb could spell trouble for sophomore left hander Haylie Wagner, who has given up 10 home runs in 25 appearances this season — including a grand slam in a loss to Wisconsin on Saturday.
In its sole contest against Central Michigan this season, Michigan took care of business in five innings, blasting the Chippewas 11-0. Wagner threw the shutout and the offense ignited to the tune of four home runs off the bats of freshman shortstop Sierra Romero and senior first baseman Ashley Lane.
But with both Wagner and Romero struggling of late, the second matchup promises a closer result.
As the only ranked team besides Michigan in the Ann Arbor regional, California (30-9) poses the biggest threat to the Wolverines. Having made it to the College World Series in 2012, the Bears boast experience Michigan lacks. Cal dropped nine of its last ten regular-season contests due in large part to the absence of senior ace Jolene Henderson, but in the final game of the season, Henderson pitched a complete game and allowed just two runs.
Michigan will host a regional at Alumni Field for 12th time in the last 13 seasons. Last year, Michigan travelled to Louisville, Kent. before it advanced to the Super Regional against Alabama.