- (Ruby Wallau/Daily)
By Max Bultman, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 3, 2014
Old habits die hard, and for the Michigan softball team lately, that has meant responding to a series-opening loss with a resounding win the next day.
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Saturday at Alumni Field, the Wolverines (18-4 Big Ten, 40-10 overall) did just that, piling on 13 hits and crushing Wisconsin, 10-1. Freshman right-hander Megan Betsa struck out 10 batters and allowed just two hits, going all six innings in the run-rule drubbing.
Betsa struggled early with her control, walking the game’s first two batters and hitting another to load the bases with one out in the first. But a visit to the mound by coach Carol Hutchins seemed to refocus the freshman, as she responded with back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning.
“(Hutchins) just came out there and actually had positive words to say this time, which was kind of funny,” Betsa said with a smile. “She just told me to trust myself, because I’m better than they are. She knows that, my whole team knows that…that my best is better than their best and she’ll take it any day.”
Although they stranded two base runners in the bottom half of the first, the Wolverines were visibly re-energized by Betsa’s punch-outs — a welcome sign after falling apart the night before in a 9-3 loss.
“(I told her) just to stay calm and throw her game,” said junior catcher Lauren Sweet. “She threw an awesome game tonight, she just had a few pitches that they got on top of or she just let hang a little bit too much. Other than that, she was awesome tonight.”
Senior designated player Taylor Hasselbach led off the bottom of the second with a deep double down the right-field line and scored on a sacrifice fly courtesy of freshman third baseman Lindsay Montemarano. Two batters later, senior center fielder Lyndsay Doyle reached on an infield single and advanced to second on an errant throw to first, scoring Sweet from second.
But Betsa couldn’t keep her momentum going for long. After striking out two more batters in the second and another to start the third, the Badgers (14-7, 32-17) loaded the bases again.
Sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero made a huge play ranging into shallow left field to grab a ground ball and throw out the runner at third for the inning’s second out, but Betsa, who struggled to remain composed with runners on base earlier this season, couldn’t get out of the jam as Wisconsin scored its only run of the day on a bunt single.
“We need that from (Romero), because that gives us confidence,” Hutchins said. “When she goes out and makes a play that nobody else in the world can make, that’s Romo. And we need her to sprint and hustle. And that infuses us with confidence.”
The Wolverines entered the bottom of the third determined to provide some separation. Romero led off the inning with a double to deep left and senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard followed suit to right, scoring Romero. A single and a walk loaded the bases with none out for Sweet, who delivered with a bloop double to push the Michigan lead to 5-1.
From there, Betsa took control, setting down the next nine batters she faced, including four strikeouts. The complete game two-hitter was exactly what the Wolverines needed, after seeing both of their top pitchers get shelled the night before.
“Pitchers set (the) tone,” Hutchins said. “Especially when you’re the home team and you’re in the field first, they set the tone. I told her (in the first inning mound visit) ‘You look good.’ ... I thought she did a magnificent job adjusting.”
And as its pitcher gained confidence, so too did Michigan’s offense, which ended game abruptly in the sixth.
Singles from freshman second baseman Abby Ramirez and senior right fielder Nicole Sappingfield paved the way for RBI hits by Romero and Blanchard, pushing the Badgers to the brink of a mercy-rule defeat. After a fielder’s choice that scored Romero, Hasselbach provided just that with a two-run walk-off home run.
While a nine-run win is never something to be upset about, Hutchins did express concern over the fact that the Wolverines appear to only come through at the plate after a loss in the series opener. She pointed to Sunday’s rubber match as a game that would test her team’s mettle less than a week before the Big Ten Tournament.
Still, Saturday’s win clinched at least a share of the Big Ten championship for Hutchins and Co. Michigan will look to take its seventh straight outright title Sunday — another habit for the Wolverines.