- Teresa Mathew/Daily
By Jake Lourim, Summer Managing Sports Editor
Published May 18, 2014
At 3:28 a.m. EDT on June 2 last year, the Michigan softball team finally finished off Arizona State to eliminate the Sun Devils from the Women’s College World Series.
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At 1:07 a.m. EDT on Sunday morning, the Wolverines finally earned the chance to do it again.
Sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero’s fourth-inning grand slam broke the game open as Michigan pulled away to eliminate San Diego State with a 9-1 run-rule win Saturday.
But the Aztecs can’t say they didn’t have their chances. San Diego State made several miscues early in the game but hung around as the Wolverines struggled to capitalize on them until Romero’s bomb.
“She did come up big, but the good news is that a lot of people contributed in that situation,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “You can’t hit a grand slam unless there are people on base. Getting on base is so important.”
With two on and one out in the second, San Diego State shortstop Monica Downey tried to get the lead runner on a grounder but overthrew the bag. Sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence tried to score on Downey’s overthrow but was caught in a rundown between third and home.
Two pitches later, left fielder Jaylene Ignacio misjudged a liner off the bat of Michigan freshman Abby Ramirez and let it get to the wall to score the game’s first two runs.
Senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard tried to score from second on a single in the third but was out by 10 feet. The Aztecs let in another run on an error in the third and allowed another base runner on an error in the fourth.
Finally, with the bases loaded, one out and the game still hanging in the balance, Romero stepped up in the fourth inning and left no doubt. When her first home run of the tournament landed over the right-center field wall, the Wolverines had their largest lead of the weekend.
In all, Michigan put nine runners on base in the first three innings but ended up with just three runs to show for it. In the meantime, freshman right-hander Megan Betsa held down the slim lead. Since a mid-April home series against Big Ten Tournament champion Minnesota, the Wolverines are 10-7. But Betsa has been a bright spot, going 7-0 with a 1.88 earned-run average in that span.
She opened her first career NCAA Tournament start with a 1-2-3, nine-pitch first inning before getting out of a jam in the second.
“We did respond (to the elimination game) — I thought Betsa came out throwing well,” Hutchins said. “We came out in attack mode, and that was the only option, to be quite honest.”
The Aztecs had a chance to trim down a three-run deficit in the bottom of the third, when they loaded the bases on a single and a walk and hit batter by Betsa. But the freshman battled out of it by inducing a popup to end the inning, and the game was never that close again.
“She threw some great pitches — she kept (San Diego State) at bay,” Hutchins said. “She gave up only one run, so I like that.”
Betsa finished with six strikeouts in 5.2 innings. Wagner came in to get the final out with the bases loaded in the sixth, ensuring the run-rule victory. Michigan is now into the regional final against Arizona State, which beat the Wolverines earlier Saturday, 4-1.
Michigan must beat the Sun Devils twice Sunday to eliminate them, starting with a 5:30 game in Tempe. To do that, the Wolverines will likely need to solve right-hander Dallas Escobedo, who has pitched 14 innings with only one earned run against them this year.
And to do that, they’ll likely need a good game from Romero, who snapped out of a 1-for-5 start to the NCAA Tournament with a four-RBI game late Saturday night — and early Sunday morning.