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Wagner, Michigan win 1-0 pitcher’s duel over Ohio State

By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 5, 2014

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins watched her team put up big inning after big inning for weeks. But she didn’t like it that way. She wanted the Wolverines to chip away.

Saturday, she got her wish.

Michigan (7-0 Big Ten, 27-6 overall) scratched out a run playing small ball in the first inning and rode junior left-hander Haylie Wagner’s two-hit shutout to a 1-0 win over Ohio State (5-2, 17-16) at Alumni Field.

Against the Buckeyes, the Wolverines didn’t have the luxury of scoring in bunches.

Sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero reached on a four-pitch walk with two outs in the first inning. One pitch after she stole second, senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard smacked a single through the hole into right field. Romero motored around third and hooked around the catcher, sliding into home just in time.

“That was a last-second decision,” Romero said. “I saw where the catcher was, and I knew if I slid feet-first, she probably would have had more of me to tag.”

That run was all Michigan needed.

Ohio State right-hander Olivia O’Reilly, who entered the game with a 2.18 ERA, kept the Wolverines scoreless the rest of the way. Michigan threatened to pull away but never could.

“Early in the game, we had a lot of well-hit balls that just didn’t go our way,” Hutchins said. “I thought our bats got worse, I thought we started guessing, not necessarily swinging at good pitches, and we just didn’t swing well when we did swing. … We’re very contagious, whether we’re having a good day or a bad day.”

The Wolverines’ best chance was in the fifth inning, when Romero came up with one out and senior outfielders Lyndsay Doyle and Nicole Sappingfield on second and first, respectively. After Romero saw her first strike of the day in three plate appearances, she hit a near-home run ball just foul down the right-field line.

Then O’Reilly jammed Romero on the next pitch for a groundout to first base, and Blanchard grounded out to third to end the threat.

Three different Wolverines stole bases Saturday, but Michigan went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

“I got caught guessing,” Romero said of her groundout. “They did a good job of switching the pitches up. I already had it in my head that she was going to pitch it outside, so that’s what I was looking for. She tricked me.”

Sappingfield and junior catcher Lauren Sweet also lined into double plays to kill rallies.

“You rope it right at them, what are you going to do?” Hutchins said. “You hit the ball well, you can only encourage them to keep hitting it well.”

Ohio State, however, had no such opportunity for a rally against Wagner, who completed her fourth shutout in five starts and struck out seven, her highest total since March 8.

For the second straight weekend, she took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, when she gave up a leadoff double. After that, she fought out of it with a strikeout, sacrifice and a line drive back to the mound that she snared.

After a leadoff single and passed ball in the seventh, Romero caught a soft liner and reached her mitt out to tag the runner in the base path. One out later, the pitcher’s duel ended.

“(Close games) are probably my favorite games,” Wagner said. “Of course, we love games when we get a ton of runs, but close games have a different adrenaline rush.”

Wagner was originally slated to pitch Friday, but strong winds made Hutchins start junior right-hander Sara Driesenga, a drop-ball pitcher. When the game was rained out, Wagner got the nod Saturday. The junior is now 18-0 with a 0.94 earned-run average after finishing Saturday with a strikeout.