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On softball: The walk off

Ruby Wallau/Daily
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By Max Bultman, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 24, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — By the time Florida State rushed the field to celebrate its Women’s College World Series berth, there was nothing more Michigan could do.

Courtney Senas, the Seminoles’ lightning-rod center fielder from Wahiawa, Hawaii, hit a two-run walk-off home run, and there was no bringing it back. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins always asks her team to keep fighting, but now there were no more battles to fight.

All that was left for the Wolverines to do was watch Senas leap in the air before touching first, then see her move into a dead sprint toward home, then try to collect themselves walking off the field for the toughest moments in all of sports.

When a season ends, inevitably, so does a career, or two, or six.

For outfielders Lyndsay Doyle and Nicole Sappingfield, Senas’ home run meant they would never again start the game in the outfield, where they’ve played together for their entire careers.

For designated player Taylor Hasselbach, no more home runs that make everyone in the stadium wonder how she didn’t play more often early in her career.

For first baseman Caitlin Blanchard, she was now just an alumnus of the program she has followed since long before Hutchins invited her to be a part of it. To Brandi Virgil, the two-run shot meant her days pinch-running were done, and for Katie Luetkens, it was time to christen a new leader of The Bench Mob.

Looking back, Hasselbach had her chances with the bases loaded. Virgil could have been called safe on a tag at home in the fifth inning, and Blanchard was stuck watching from third in the seventh.

But that wasn’t important once reality sunk in. Hutchins said she was proud of her team’s heart, and she meant it.

No one outside the program knows what Hutchins said in the huddle she called while the Seminoles jumped up and down around home plate, then rolled around on the infield dirt, then ran around screaming and hugging. But you can bet it involved the word “pride.”

After all, they had done everything she’s preached since day one.

They played the game pitch by pitch, like Hasselbach and Doyle did last week with their unthinkable plays to beat Arizona State. They did their part, like Virgil when she came into nearly every game to pinch run, then left each one without protest. Sappingfield played through the flu in 100-degree weather.

It was understandable, then, for Hutchins to get a little choked up when asked to reflect on her senior group.

“It’s tough,” Hutchins said. “It’s tough to say goodbye.”

The Wolverines have plenty of returning talent, and even more in the incoming recruiting class. They could very well make another run next year behind sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero and the same pitching staff of juniors Haylie Wagner and Sara Driesenga and freshman Megan Betsa.

But right now, it’s hard to imagine any of that without Sappingfield, Doyle, Blanchard, Hasselbach, Virgil or Luetkens.

In college sports, its still about winning with the people you want to win with. Sometimes it’s about walking away together when there’s nothing left to do.