Looking to start the NCAA Tournament off on the right foot, the Michigan softball team began its quest for a Women’s College World Series title right where it wanted to — at Alumni Field. And the Wolverines made sure they didn’t disappoint their home crowd.
Behind an offensive explosion in the third inning, No. 15 seed Michigan (44-11) cruised past Saint Francis (PA), 8-0, in six innings. The Red Flash (29-30) seemed to hang with the Wolverines early on but Michigan’s momentum from the third frame proved to be too much for Saint Francis to handle.
Today’s success wasn’t without a slight scare right at the beginning of the game, though. With two outs in the top of the first inning, senior catcher Katie Alexander caught sophomore left-hander Meghan Beaubien’s pitch and faked a throw to first base where Red Flash second baseman Cheyenne McKee was seen lurking off the bag. But as Alexander came down on her right leg, she suddenly fell to the ground and a silence spread throughout the stadium.
Though she was able to walk off the injury and played through the top of the second, Wolverines coach Carol Hutchins substituted her out for freshman catcher Hannah Carson in the bottom of the second inning.
However, after a somewhat slow start by both teams, Michigan came to life in the bottom of the third inning. Back at the top of its lineup, the team started the inning with a leadoff double from senior second baseman Faith Canfield and a single from senior outfielder Natalie Peters.
Freshman outfielder Lexie Blair then put the Wolverines on the board with her first-ever NCAA Tournament RBI on a fielder’s choice single. But that was only the start of the Wolverines third inning onslaught. Senior designated player Mackenzie Nemitz catalyzed a two-out rally, tacking on another run with a double down the first base foul line, making the score 2-0.
Then Carson stepped up to the plate. With one at-bat already under her belt, she hit a chopper to McKee for what seemed would be an easy groundout to end the inning. Instead, McKee bobbled the groundball and Nemitz and junior third baseman Madison Uden sprinted home, bringing Michigan’s lead to four.
“I was just hoping that (Alexander) was okay,” Carson said. “I knew that no matter what, if I have to go in, my teammates trusted me, and my coaches trusted me and I just used what I’ve been practicing.”
In the meantime, Beaubien picked up right where she had left off at the Big Ten Tournament. Pitching five shutout innings and allowing just two hits on no walks, she refused to let Saint Francis’ lineup find a rhythm the entire time she was in the circle.
After a scoreless fourth and top of the fifth for both teams, the clouds that loomed over Alumni Field since the start of the game finally let loose and a slow drizzle became a steady downpour. As fans emptied the stands to seek shelter, a rain delay was called in the middle of the fifth inning. But fortunately for both teams as well as the Wolverine faithful, the sun found its way from behind the clouds not too long after the delay was declared, and the game resumed.
After two quick outs from Sobczak and Uden and another hit from Nemitz in the bottom of the fifth, Carson, poised to continue her performance, pounded an RBI double to the center field wall, showing that Michigan had not skipped a beat without Alexander.
“I think (our depth) is part of our success,” Hutchins said. “We’ve had kids in roles all year, we’ve seen the emergence of (sophomore first baseman) Lou Allan as she’s gotten healthy in key pinch-hit roles. … We’re definitely more than nine deep and you see both of our pitchers picking each other up when they need to. I think we’re gonna need them all to get through this tournament.”
The Wolverines continued to pile on runs in the sixth inning and the run rule finally came into effect.