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Michigan overcomes late-inning drama, takes Game 1 of Super Regional

Marlene Lacasse/Daily
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By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 24, 2013

For two teams that thrive on their potent offenses, Friday’s ending to Game 1 of the best-of-three Super Regional seemed plenty fitting.

The Michigan and Louisiana-Lafayette softball teams combined for for three home runs in the final two innings, and none was bigger than senior second baseman Ashley Lane’s two-run, walk-off blast in the eighth. Lane secured a 4-3 victory over the Ragin’ Cajuns to put the eighth-ranked Wolverines one win away from advancing to their first Women’s College World Series since 2009.

After junior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, Lane stepped into the box. Having struck out in each of her three at-bats, Lane popped up into foul territory for what looked like a sure out. But ULL first baseman Matte Haack dropped the ball and gifted Lane another opportunity.

“I gave a little mini-fist pump,” Lane said of the error. “I was pumped because that’s a legitimate second life right there. I definitely wasn’t going to let that one get by.”

Added Michigan coach Carol Hutchins: “I knew we would definitely make a run for it. Whether we’d pull it out or not, you never know. But I knew we’d fight.”

Lane’s game-ending home run came after the 21st-ranked Ragin’ Cajuns mounted a comeback with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. Shortstop Nerissa Myers knocked a single to left field to bring up her cousin Brianna Cherry. Cherry, who had also gone hitless in her previous three at-bats, delivered with a home run to center field.

Lafayette struck again in the top of the eighth when Matte smacked a towering home run to left field that gave the Ragin’ Cajun’s their first lead of the game.

Sophomore right-hander Sara Driesenga threw 7.1 innings, but was promptly removed after she allowed two more hits and recorded only one out. Her replacement, sophomore left-hander Haylie Wagner, retired the next two batters she faced to get out of the jam.

“Obviously, the more times you see a pitcher, you see her spin, and the more at-bats you have, it’s easier to make adjustments,” said Louisiana-Lafayette coach Michael Lotief. “As we tied it up we started playing a lot freer, taking our rips and playing the Ragin’ Cajun way.”

Driesenga had yet another strong outing despite the ending, striking out five while scattering nine hits.

"It is a tough call because I don't get to know the future," Hutchins said. "I didn't feel that (Driesenga) had it and I thought was getting away from her. We needed to hold them; we couldn't afford to give up another run."

Michigan (49-10) sat second in the nation in runs scored with 7.16 per game entering Friday’s contest, just five spots ahead of ULL (46-14), who averaged 6.80. Neither team played like they were ranked in the first six innings, though, as only the Wolverines got on the scoreboard.

The Ragin’s Cajuns’ best opportunity to score prior to the offensive explosion in the seventh came the inning before when Haack drove a ball to deep right field. But junior right-fielder Nicole Sappingfield stuck her glove up to knock the ball back into the field and hold Haack to a single.

“I thought we gave away a lot during the middle of the game,” Hutchins said. “We gave away a lot of at-bats, we allowed Jordan Wallace to get in our heads. Her change-up started fooling us a bit and I think our kids were guessing instead of seeing the ball and hitting it.”

Indeed, Wallace was a primary factor in keeping Michigan at bay. Wallace struck out 10 and allowed only five hits. But early in the game, Wallace struggled with her control.

Junior center fielder Lyndsay Doyle led off the first inning with a single and was ultimately brought home when freshman Sierra Romero dropped a double between two Lafayette outfielders. Romero scored following a single from junior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard.

The Wolverines received a jolt of momentum in the first inning thanks to freshman left fielder Sierra Lawrence. With a runner on third, Lawrence caught a ball in foul territory and fired the ball to home, just in time for the tag.

Left standing in the end of a hectic and thrilling finish were two relaxed, veteran coaches waiting to see what tomorrow has to bring. After all, there’s at least one more game to be played.

“The thing is, you can’t get too high,” Hutchins said. “As I said, nothing’s decided today. You can’t get too high, and tomorrow we need to be ready to fight.”

“You can’t play the game with pressure,” Lotief added. “The game (tomorrow) ought to be fun. There may be pressure for the fans, or for people watching, but these kids aren’t under any pressure.”