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Seventh-inning rally lifts Michigan into Big Ten final vs. Minnesota

By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 10, 2014

EVANSTON — Last Sunday against Wisconsin, sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero came up with the winning run on second in a tie game in the seventh inning. But she flied out to left, and she wouldn’t get many more opportunities like that.

Of course, Romero did — two games later, against the same team in the Big Ten semifinals. This time, the Badgers wanted nothing to do with her. So senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard did the job instead.

Blanchard hit the game-winning RBI single in the seventh inning to send Michigan into the Big Ten final with a 4-3 win over Wisconsin.

That hit was only the end of the drama in a bizarre game between two teams that played three times the previous weekend.

The Badgers nearly took the lead in the sixth inning when they sent shortstop Ashley Van Zeeland from first and third baseman Michelle Mueller from third. But Romero sniffed out the play, catching the throw down to second and sprinting toward first. Just before Mueller crossed home with the go-ahead run, Romero dove and tagged Van Zeeland in a rundown to end the inning.

Wisconsin took away some of the drama in the seventh, when catcher Chloe Miller smashed a leadoff home run 50 feet over the center-field fence. That could have ended it but for a Michigan rally in the bottom half.

Senior outfielders Lyndsay Doyle and Nicole Sappingfield led off the inning but came in hitting a combined 1-for-13. They both came through, though.

Doyle slapped a single to lead off the inning, and then Sappingfield drilled a fly ball to the wall in right field. Marissa Mersch just missed the over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track, and when Wisconsin got the ball in, Doyle had scored the tying run and Sappingfield was standing at second.

Romero walked on four pitches, giving way to Blanchard, who just a night earlier hit a grand slam following an intentional walk to Romero.

And Blanchard had the clutch hit again. After a double steal put runners on second and third with no outs, Blanchard lined a single to left, giving Wisconsin no chance for the play at the plate. Sappingfield scored, and the Wolverines survived.

One game away from the Big Ten final, Michigan got the chance to avenge its only series loss of the season. After the Badgers rolled into Alumni Field last weekend and beat the Wolverines two out of three times, it looked like their upper hand would hold. Left fielder Mary Massei, Wisconsin’s first-team All-Big Ten selection, gave her team the lead before Michigan even got to hit with a two-run home run in the first inning.

The Wolverines went through the lineup one full time before getting on the board in the third on Romero’s third-inning two-run home run. From that point on, it was clear neither team was rolling over.

Freshman right-hander Megan Betsa, who had won her past 10 decisions, got the start in the circle for Michigan and settled down in a big way after giving up the early homer. She scattered two hits and three walks — one intentional — over the next 4.2 innings. She finished with a complete-game six-hitter and her 16th win, sending Michigan on to the final.