With the No. 2 Michigan softball team clinging to a 3-2 lead over No. 17 Missouri in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday, junior third baseman Lindsay Montemarano stepped to the plate with two outs and sophomore first baseman Tera Blanco standing on first base.
Tigers left-hander Paige Lowary was in the midst of a three-inning scoreless streak after the Wolverines put up three runs in the bottom of the first, and Montemarano had yet to record a hit on the day.
But this time around, Montemarano connected on one of Lowary’s pitches, launching a two-run homer over the left-field wall to add to Michigan’s lead and help her team to a 5-3 victory over Missouri in the first game of the NCAA Super Regionals in Ann Arbor.
“In the Super Regionals, any win is great,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We came out and made some great things happen. Getting on the board (early) was really big, and Megan really had a gutsy performance for us. It’s not always easy out there, and she just had to gut through inning after inning. I was very proud of her and very proud of my troops. We played some fantastic defense (and) made some great plays when we needed.”
The second meeting between the two teams this year was much more tightly contested than the first — a 13-0, run-rule victory by the Wolverines on March 3.
Michigan struck first in Saturday’s game, jumping out to an early lead in the bottom of the first inning. With the bases loaded and one out, Blanco singled up the middle to score senior centerfielder Sierra Lawrence and senior second baseman Sierra Romero, who evaded the tag at home plate by sliding around Missouri catcher Kirsten Mack. Then, Lowary hit two consecutive batters with pitches to bring home another run for the Wolverines.
The Tigers struck back in the top of the third inning, though, when designated player Chloe Rathburn connected on a pitch from Michigan junior right-hander Megan Betsa for a two-run homer to cut the Wolverines’ lead to 3-2.
And after Montemarano’s two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth, Missouri responded once again in the top of the sixth, scoring another run off a solo homer by Mack. The Tigers had runners on first and third with two outs in the same frame, but Betsa esaped further damage when Missouri right-fielder Emily Crane lined a ball directly at Michigan centerfielder Sierra Lawrence.
“From my warm-up, I knew today was going to be a fight,” Betsa said. “(Missouri’s) a great team, and they were putting great cuts on the ball. I just had to work through it, use my offspeed a little bit more and throw the ball through the zone.”
With the Tigers down to their final three outs, shortstop Sami Fagan led off the top of the seventh inning with a walk. But Michigan’s defense helped its pitcher out with a series of fantastic plays — Lawrence recorded the first out on a diving catch, Montemarano fielded a hard-hit ball at third base for a forced out at second and Romero recorded the final out of the game off a diving stop.
“We’ve talked all year about trust and trusting myself and trusting who’s behind me,” Betsa said. “(Romero) came out there and she was like, ‘We’re good players back here. Let us do some work for you.’ Those three outstanding plays in the seventh, what a way to go out. I trust them with everything I have and they did a great job when I didn’t really have my best stuff.”
The Wolverines will play Missouri on Sunday at noon needing only one more victory to advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
“I am most pleased that they just came out (and) scratched and clawed, which is the only way you’re going to get through this tournament,” Hutchins said. “The team that puts their head down, that’s when you get knocked out. We just (have) to keep throwing punches and not worry when things don’t go our way. Our fight today was fantastic.”