As Alumni Field rocked with cheers from the crowd while the No. 2 Michigan softball team mounted a furious comeback in the top of the seventh inning, Megan Betsa was recuperating in a cold tub in the locker room.
The junior right-hander had been removed from the game in the previous frame, and after No. 17 Missouri had taken a late 4-1 lead over Michigan, it didn’t seem likely that Betsa would need to pitch again after being told she would only come back if the Wolverines tied the game.
But her teammates did just that and more, scoring four runs to erase the deficit and take a 5-4 lead. Betsa jumped out of the tub, donned her uniform once more and re-entered the circle for Michigan.
“As soon as we scored that run, I jumped out of the cold tub, put my clothes on and came back out on the field,” Betsa said. “(Someone) came in and was like, ‘Hey, they need you out on the field.’ ”
Betsa had kept Missouri off the board through the first four innings but faltered down the stretch while dealing with a minor back injury. She gave up a run in the fifth that tied the game before surrendering a double to start the bottom of the sixth.
“The back thing was something that was there at the beginning of the season,” Betsa said. “It hindered me from pitching a little bit early on, and it just came back yesterday. I was pitching in a hole and just jamming into that part of my body was very uncomfortable. I just had to work through that today, and our trainer did an awesome job making sure I had whatever I needed.”
After giving up the leadoff double, Betsa generated a groundout and intentionally walked Tiger designated player Chloe Rathburn. Michigan coach Carol Hutchins then walked out to the circle to relieve her ace pitcher with fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga.
“Megan was struggling a little bit,” Hutchins said. “Her back was bothering her. At this point in the day I’m operating with my gut, and my gut was we need some ground balls.”
Driesenga was unable to get the job done, surrendering a three-run homer to Missouri first baseman Rylee Pierce. She finished the inning without giving up any more runs, and Hutchins was inclined to keep her in for the seventh inning if Michigan’s bats could extend the game.
Driesenga, though, forced Hutchins’ hand by hitting the leadoff batter in the bottom of the seventh.
“As a staff, we decided Sara was going to be better in the second inning,” Hutchins said. “(But) when she hit the first batter I knew she hadn’t recovered. I went out to the mound, came back and decided we were gonna go to Megan.”
And re-entering the game proved to be no trouble for Betsa, who induced three outs via two groundouts and a strikeout to earn the save and send her team on to the Women’s College World Series.
“I can’t say enough about the gutsy performance of Megan Betsa,” Hutchins said. “Her guts along with all of her teammates….I told them (that) their hearts are so blue. The reason we’re still playing is because of their heart.”
Added Betsa: “You can never count this team out. That inning, we had to have trust in the next person to just get it done. We played great as a team.”