The rematch between James Madison and No. 15 seed Michigan was highly-anticipated the moment the NCAA Tournament selection committee placed both teams in the Ann Arbor Regional.
Looking to avenge a nine-inning loss to the Dukes on Mar. 7 — a game that was deadlocked at zeroes until the final inning — the Wolverines found themselves in another pitching duel deep into the game. But this time, they prevailed, 1-0, off of a walk-off hit in the twelfth inning.
“I’m just so proud of my kids,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We knew it was a battle, we had a lot of disappointing moments, how many innings. … They had to stay tough and what a fantastic game by both pitchers. We know how good (James Madison right-hander) Megan Good is. She’s really good. So is (sophomore left-hander) Meghan Beaubien.
“What it comes down to in a game like this is staying in control of your emotions. It’s staying just in the hunt and believing.”
Both teams started slow, though Michigan had a chance early on to get on the scoreboard. With two outs and the bases loaded, senior designated player Mackenzie Nemitz stepped up to the plate in prime position to give her team the early lead. Instead, she was dealt three pitches and found herself back in the dugout alongside the baserunners.
But after that first inning, Good was lights-out in the circle and the Dukes repeatedly knocked on the door to blow the game open. Each time a James Madison player looked to trigger any momentum, though, Beaubien and the Wolverines’ defense were ready, especially as the game went on.
With a runner on base and two outs in the fourth inning, Dukes’ outfielder Logan Newton thought she had a hit to keep the inning alive. But junior outfielder Haley Hoogenraad robbed Newton of a potential RBI with a highlight reel catch, laying out in right field to end the inning.
James Madison threatened again in the top of the fifth, this time with runners on the corners and two outs. Beaubien then found herself in a full count against Dukes’ leadoff hitter Hannah File. Poised to get out of the inning rather than digging herself into a deeper hole, Beaubien fired a fastball and baited File into a swing and a miss for one of her 12 strikeouts.
“It was a fun game,” Beaubien said. “I think every moment of it was fun even though it was tough. I think I did, and I think everyone else around the dugout, spent the entire game believing that we were going to win.”
With the crowd on its feet after Beaubien’s valiant effort, Michigan found an extra burst of energy within itself in the bottom of the fifth, placing runners on second and third bases with two outs. In search of an elusive two-out rally, the Wolverines once again stranded runners on base, taking away any momentum they had going into the inning.
Still 0-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Michigan found itself in the same position it was in just the previous inning. This time, senior first baseman Alex Sobczak and freshman pinch hitter Morgan Overaitis were sitting on second and third with two outs after a second James Madison passed ball. With another crack at a two-out rally for the Wolverines, freshman catcher Hannah Carson made contact with the ball — it was a popup to shortstop Sara Juba that left runners on base for yet another time.
After both teams repeated this pattern of leaving runners on base for a few more innings, Michigan finally popped the lid off the can.
In the bottom of the 12th inning, senior outfielder Natalie Peters sat on third base after her leadoff double and junior third baseman Madison Uden pushed her home on a walk-off hit, getting revenge for the Wolverines.
“I think it’s funny because, actually I know that my teammates feel the same way, I don’t think we’ve been ever more confident than we are right now,” Uden said. “That just keeps us rolling … We just kept pushing and when the energy wasn’t there, other people were picking other people up and that’s a huge part of a team win.”