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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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Wagner plays hero, leads Michigan over SDSU in NCAA opener

James Coller/Daily
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By Jake Lourim, Summer Managing Sports Editor
Published May 16, 2014

Junior left-hander Haylie Wagner handed the ball to Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins as freshman right-hander Megan Betsa came in from the bullpen. At that point, Wagner had given up a two-out, two-run double that tied the game at three in the second inning, and it seemed almost impossible that Wagner would be the player of the game.

And then, more than two hours after one of her worst starts of the season, she gave herself the win — in the same game.

The Wolverines coughed up a three-run lead in the top of the seventh before Wagner came back in and salvaged their NCAA Tournament opener against San Diego State in an 8-7, nine-inning win.

In the same day, Wagner was the near-goat and the hero. She was pulled after 10 hitters in the second inning when she gave up a solo homer and a two-run double.

Later, she came in with San Diego State’s game-tying run on third in the eighth. After getting out of that jam, Wagner pitched two more scoreless innings and then came in to pinch-hit with Michigan’s winning run on third in the ninth.

“I knew that my time was going to come again,” Wagner said. “I just went in there and attacked them. That’s what we talked about all weekend.

“It was completely different. It was a 0-0 ballgame, and that’s how I went after it.”

And she delivered again.

Freshman third baseman Lindsay Montemarano hit a blooper to shallow right field that dropped and got past San Diego State right fielder Patrice Jackson and rolled all the way to the wall, sending Montemarano to third. Wagner scored her from there with a sacrifice fly, ending a wild first game of the regional.

The Wolverines broke out and scored in each of the first four innings, aided by freshman second baseman Abby Ramirez, who went 3-for-3, and sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence’s three-run home run.

But the Aztecs weren’t done yet — not even down 7-4 going into the seventh inning.

Freshman right-hander Megan Betsa relieved Wagner and cruised through the sixth inning, changing speeds well to keep Michigan comfortable until the sixth.

That’s when everything changed. A hit batter, error and walk loaded the bases with one out. Betsa then gave up an RBI single to make it 7-5. That brought in junior right-hander Sara Driesenga, who walked the only batter she faced on four pitches.

Wagner came back in to finish the inning. She gave up a high chopper to first that scored the tying run, and all of a sudden it was a brand new game. A brand new game brought a brand new Wagner, who efficiently set down all eight batters she faced in her second stint on the mound.

Montemarano led off the bottom half with a single before giving way to pinch-runner Brandi Virgil. Virgil advanced over to third on two sacrifices, but senior outfielder Nicole Sappingfield popped out to end the inning.

Both teams went down quietly in the eighth, San Diego State in order and Michigan with only a two-out single.

The Wolverines started hot against San Diego State left-hander Danielle O’Toole, but later, they couldn’t come up with a run when they needed it.

“She kept throwing that off-speed pitch, and she threw it very well,” Hutchins said. “I think you have to give her a lot of credit. There’s a game within the game, and you have to play that game too.”

For most of the game, it looked like none of that would happen. Lawrence, who had hit safely in just three of her previous 16 at-bats going into Friday, hammered a three-run bomb to right-center field in the bottom of the first inning.

“The team actually gave me energy in my first at-bat,” Lawrence said. “I just heard them behind me cheering for me and gave me energy. It helped me believe in myself even more and pick them up even more.”

After Wagner gave up the lead, Betsa came in and started cruising while Michigan kept piling on runs.

And even without the usual damage by sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero, who went 0-for-2 with three walks, Michigan advanced to play the winner of Arizona State and Dartmouth on Saturday in the double-elimination tournament.