Sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero has slugged plenty of home runs well over the outfield fence this year. One even made it onto Michigan’s home baseball field at Ray Fisher Stadium beyond the softball fence.
But on Sunday, with the Wolverines struggling against Arizona State right-hander Dallas Escobedo and already down 2-0 in the first inning facing elimination, a short home run worked just fine.
Romero’s first-inning hit squeaked just over the fence and the reach of Sun Devils left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio. Senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard added a two-run slam in the third inning to lift Michigan over Arizona State, 4-3, and into a winner-take-all regional final later Sunday.
The two home runs were the Wolverines’ only two in the first four innings. After Romero drew a two-out walk in the third, Blanchard got an inside pitch and crushed it to right-center field.
Escobedo pitched a complete game to push Michigan to the brink of elimination Saturday and also threw a one-hit shutout against the Wolverines in March. When the right-hander took the circle again, Michigan knew runs would be at a premium. The Wolverines struggled to muster anything besides two great pieces of hitting by their power hitters in the middle of the lineup.
Romero came up with senior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield on first in the first inning. After she hit it, she dropped the bat and put her head down as if she thought it would be a routine fly ball, while Escobedo pointed to the ball in the sky. But the hit ended up giving Michigan the boost it so badly needed after struggling mightily against Escobedo a day earlier.
Romero’s homer tied the game after Arizona State shortstop Cheyenne Coyle went deep in the top of the first off freshman right-hander Megan Betsa. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins pulled Betsa after four hitters and two walks and replaced her with junior left-hander Haylie Wagner, who threw 6.1 strong innings of relief for the win. A fourth-inning solo shot by No. 7 hitter Chelsea Gonzales — who also hit the go-ahead three-run home run Saturday against the Wolverines — was the only blemish on Wagner’s line.
Wagner stuck to her usual game plan of controlling the strike zone and letting the Sun Devils put the ball in play. She struck out only one but induced three popups and 10 ground balls.
She got the lead behind Blanchard’s blast and held it against a strong Arizona State lineup. After the No. 9 hitter reached on an infield single in the seventh, Wagner calmly got three straight ground balls to end the game.