SEATTLE — Michigan was up four. The lead was more runs than Washington had scored against the Wolverines in the past two games combined. There was an .88 ERA pitcher in the circle for Michigan and a pitcher who had just thrown a complete, seven-inning game on the rubber for the Huskies.
There was no reason to lose.
Then they blew it.
They bottled it, fumbled the bag, dropped the ball, shit the bed — however you want to put it, Michigan let an NCAA Regional victory fall through its hands.
The Wolverines (38-8), who entered the day only needing one out of two games to advance to the Norman Super Regional, crumbled at the brink of triumph at the hands of Washington (45-12) by a score of 10-5.
Michigan took the lead early. A Lexie Blair single opened up the game, and a bunt from senior infielder Natalia Rodriguez advanced the junior outfielder into scoring position.
Senior first baseman Lou Allan ripped a ball to center field in the next at-bat, scoring Blair. Standing up from her slide, Blair shouted towards the Michigan dugout and the team shouted back with just as much conviction.
After senior third baseman Taylor Bump drew a walk, a flyout advanced sophomore Audrey LeClair — pinch-running for Allan — to third. Sophomore designated player Lauren Esman stepped up to the plate. In three pitches, Esman was rung up.
“We made a couple of miscues,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said, “They got a little over-amped and over-anxious.”
In the bottom of the frame, Washington answered with a series of hits that resulted in a sacrifice fly scoring Klingler from third.
All tied up, the Wolverines struck again, this time more decisively. A flurry of well-worked counts and balls finding gaps saw Michigan with bases loaded. More small ball saw the Wolverines scoring four one-by-one.
In the bottom of the third, the Huskies found their own bases-loaded opportunity. A two-RBI double by Kelley Lynch was all they could muster before ending the inning on a pop out and a strikeout.
Michigan still had a two-run lead. It was in the driver’s seat heading into the fourth despite the slip-up. Then it began to unravel.
Washington outfielder Jadelyn Allchin opened up the frame with a home run, cutting the deficit to one. Hutchins had seen enough, deciding to bring in senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien for junior right-hander Alex Storako.
She didn’t fare any better.
Sophomore second baseman Julia Jimenez took her time on the throw and Washington’s Sis Bates beat it out. A Klingler double scored Bates, tying the game at five apiece.
A grounder back to second was thrown home, Jimenez trying to get the force out at the plate, but the runner beat the throw and the Huskies took their first lead of the game. A gap shot fell in shallow right-center field scoring another.
Then, a double from outfielder Madison Huskey scored two more, making it 9-5, Washington. A short bunt froze Bump on the decision and yet another run scored.
With seven runs in just one inning and nine unanswered, it was no longer Michigan’s game. Washington had seized control and put a stranglehold on the Wolverines.
“That’s what big time players do, they make the plays.” Hutchins said. “We saw them do that. Unfortunately we didn’t do it enough.”
The Huskies held on, riding the five-run lead all the way to the final out.
As Washington celebrated in a parade of purple, Michigan’s players held their heads low, facing the postmortem of the opportunity they let slip away.
But it wasn’t just a blown lead. Not just a blown game. Not just a blown Regional.
It was a blown season.
Michigan had every piece it needed to succeed in the postseason — and that’s what matters. A regular season championship in a relatively mediocre Big Ten conference isn’t enough for the winningest NCAA softball coach of all time to call it a successful season.
And it absolutely wasn’t enough for the 2021 senior class.
The players graduating are more to this team than seniors or good players, they have been fundamental pillars to the Wolverines’ success.
“I’m grateful for what they did for the program this year,” Hutchins said. “I’m only sorry we couldn’t see it through to the next level, and I’m sorry for them.”
Beaubien has been Michigan’s go-to in the circle since her freshman year, taking the helm on the heels of Megan Betsa.
Allan, who has battled injuries for years, stepped up and became the Wolverines’ most reliable hitter this year. She batted .383 with a 1.121 OPS and a team-leading 45 RBI — averaging an even one per game.
Bump was the uppercut after Allan’s right hook in the batting order. After not finding a real place on the team for three years, Bump caught fire. She bested her previous high batting average of .207 with a .328 mark, slugged .689 and led the team with 12 home runs.
“What the senior class has done, it’s been extraordinary,” Hutchins said. “They’ve been great leaders. They’ve really kept our group together.”
With these three pillars and weapons such as Blair and Storako, this team was the best-suited Michigan squad to make a run at the Women’s College World Series since 2016 and Sierra Romero.
But when all the Wolverines needed to do was hold on, they failed.
And when they did, they lost their chance to take advantage of a gifted senior class.
A senior class that is now the first since 1994 not to make a Super Regional.
A senior class that gave more than ever could have been expected.
A senior class that deserved to win.