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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Softball capitalizes on mistakes in FSU's worst loss ever

Ruby Wallau/Daily
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By Jake Lourim, Summer Managing Sports Editor
Published May 22, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Michigan softball team had the deck stacked against it Thursday night when it opened a Super Regional series at Florida State: the Wolverines were playing on the road in front of a standing-room-only crowd at JoAnne Graf Field, four days after finishing a grueling regional tournament at Arizona State.

So Michigan caught a break when it played the Seminoles on what appeared to be one of their worst pitching and fielding games of the season. Florida State gave up 17 runs in a run-rule loss, its most ever.

The Wolverines weren’t on the top of their game, either. That much was clear when freshman third baseman Lindsay Montemarano overthrew first base on a grounder from Florida State’s leadoff hitter. While senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard ran down the ball in foul territory, three Michigan players — Montemarano, sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero and junior left-hander Haylie Wagner — miscommunicated over who would cover third base.

While Thursday’s game may end up being the sloppiest of the Super Regional, Michigan for the most part refused to play down to the Seminoles’ level.

Instead, the Wolverines made every last mistake hurt.

“Any time you have runners on base, it’s an opportunity,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “But I thought we were in our moment, and we weren’t caught up in anything other than the next pitch. Our kids executed that very well tonight.”

Florida State right-hander Lacey Waldrop came in at 30-4 with a 0.90 earned-run average, but Michigan didn’t even wait an inning to get to her. After Waldrop sent down the first two hitters easily, sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero lined a single off her glove. The Wolverines capitalized on the opportunity, following it up with two straight singles to score Romero and take the lead.

“I was missing spots on some 0-2 counts, which is something that usually you don’t try to do,” Waldrop said. “Just didn’t attack like I should have. I didn’t go out there with the confidence that I needed to.”

Like the defense, junior left-hander Haylie Wagner was by no means on top of her game. She gave up a run in the first inning and two more on three singles in the second, giving way to freshman right-hander Megan Betsa after just 1.2 innings.

At that point, it looked like it might be a long night for both teams, but Michigan made sure it was just for the Seminoles.

The Wolverines ended all doubt in the top of the third when they put eight straight runners on base to start the inning, knocking out Waldrop and tagging her with eight runs, her most since April 13.

“She’s a drop-ball pitcher, so she wants you to chase,” said Romero, who went 2-for-2 and worked three walks. “If you can stay focused and not swing at any of the junk, you look for that one pitch and take advantage of it.”

That outburst didn’t require much on Michigan’s part, only that the Wolverines stay patient and capitalize on Florida State’s mistakes — and that they did. The Seminoles barely missed a couple of plays in the field and ended up with three errors. Once the Wolverines worked out their early kinks, they started spraying the ball all over the park against a lackluster Florida State defense.

“They’re a very scrappy team, and they get different people to get it done at different times,” Waldrop said. “We knew Romero is a very good hitter, and we know sometimes we’re going to not have to pitch to her, but I think their whole lineup did a good job of being scrappy today, fouling off pitches and not giving up.”

The Wolverines managed only two extra-base hits, one being a weak bloop double down the left-field line that rolled into foul territory. They needed a pitching change and overcame two errors. It was far from their perfect game — but that can wait until Friday.

For Thursday, all they needed to do was take what Florida State gave them.