OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Led by its coach, the Michigan softball team walked one-by-one, red-eyed, into the bowels of ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
It was all quiet but for the occasional sniffle as coach Carol Hutchins, senior second baseman Sierra Romero, junior right-hander Megan Betsa and senior right-fielder Kelsey Susalla seated themselves at the front end of the press conference room before answering questions.
A magical run last season that ended with a runner-up finish set expectations as high as they’ve ever been for Michigan this time around, which is not easy feat when you consider the program has made it to Oklahoma City more times than you can count on each hand.
And though the second-ranked Wolverines failed to go as far as they did last season, losing 1-0 to Florida State in an elimination game, Hutchins still wanted her players to keep their heads up high.
“I’ve got a lot of heartbroken kids, a fantastic senior class that has to say goodbye, and I told them just to reflect on their careers, what they’ve meant to Michigan and what Michigan has meant to them,” Hutchins said. “We’ll hold our heads high at the end of the day, because they represent this institution and the sport of softball. They represent their families every day the way our institution asks them to do it. They’re great Michigan women.
“As a coach, ultimately that’s what I’m most proud of. I’ll always be proud of Team 39. They’ve had a great season and we had a great run, and unfortunately, we just ran out (of gas) at the end.”
After the loss, Michigan didn’t talk about what-ifs. It didn’t talk about what should’ve been. Instead, Hutchins and the Wolverines focused on all that they were able to accomplish.
“We set really high expectations for our student-athletes, and if you’re going to wear the Block M, you’re going to wear it right,” Hutchins said. “You’re going to learn the minute you walk in the door that this isn’t about you, this is about Michigan. Your job, your duty and the reason we bring you to Michigan and give you the opportunity of your lifetime is to help make Michigan great, and our kids embraced that and they epitomize it.
“This senior class has done nothing but both of those things. They have done nothing but represent Michigan. I’m very, very proud of that.”
Before Sunday, Michigan had rebounded with a win after every loss this season. But after Amanda Vargas’s foul pop-up was caught for the final out and the Seminoles streamed onto the field to celebrate, there were no more chances for the Wolverines to redeem themselves, leaving them reduced to a 52-7 record with no ring to show.
And on one of the hardest days of their lives, with their hearts in pieces, Michigan reminded its fans — and its coach — why it loved them to begin with.
They stopped crying. They signed autographs.