OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The game between second-seeded Michigan and tenth-seeded Louisiana State was pushed back an entire day by bad weather.
Once it finally started Friday night, though, it did not disappoint.
The Wolverines and Tigers battled back-and-forth in a low-scoring affair at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, with both starting pitchers keeping the other team’s lineup in check.
The game was scoreless through the first five-and-a-half innings before Michigan finally broke through, taking a late lead en route to a 2-0 win.
“What a pitcher’s duel,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “What a gutsy performance from both pitchers. In a game like that, and I told the kids late in the game there, you’ve gotta stay tough, and toughness is not allowing yourself to go mentally in the wrong direction, to start worrying about, ‘Oh, we haven’t scored runs.’ I thought we did an outstanding job of that. I thought LSU played outstanding. (Allie) Walljasper was outstanding, but we were outstanding as well.
“We were pretty focused on (Walljasper’s) change-up, which was excellent, and let it get in our head a little bit. I wanted us to go up there and hit the fastball. Late in the game, we did start swinging early, and it was effective as we had a few hits and got something going. She did an outstanding job against us, and we need to attack by simply hitting the fast-pitch and not thinking.”
The Wolverines were able to score two runs to break the deadlock in the bottom of the sixth inning. Senior second baseman Sierra Romero led things off with a walk before junior left-fielder Kelly Christner singled through the right side of the infield. Then, senior right-fielder Kelsey Susalla walked to load the bases after starting her at-bat down 0-2 in the count.
With sophomore first baseman Tera Blanco at the plate, LSU pitcher Carley Hoover came in for relief of Walljasper, who had started the game for the Tigers and kept the Wolverines’ bats quiet before the bottom of the sixth.
Facing a 2-1 count, Blanco connected on Hoover’s pitch, but it traveled foul down the left-field line.
Blanco would not miss her opportunity on the next pitch, though, grooving the ball over the head of LSU right-fielder Bailey Landry for a double.
And as the ball rolled toward the outfield wall, Romero and Christner raced home to give Michigan a 2-0 lead.
“I was looking for a good pitch to hit and get it out in front,” Blanco said. “(Hoover) throws hard, and I was just looking to hit the ball on the ground. I was really excited when I saw the ball (travel) like that, and I’m pretty sure everyone else was too.”
The late lead proved to be the only one the Wolverines would need behind a stellar performance from Megan Betsa.
The junior right-hander was lights-out in the circle for Michigan, pitching seven innings scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. She allowed four hits and two walks, but stranded all six baserunners.
She escaped jams in the top of the fourth and fifth innings after allowing two Tigers to reach base in each frame. In the fourth, she struck out LSU second baseman Constance Quinn, while she ended the fifth similarly, striking out Tiger third baseman Bianka Bell.
And after the Wolverines took the lead in the bottom of the sixth, she set LSU down in order in the top of the seventh inning to end the game, inducing two groundouts and striking out one.
Michigan will face third-seeded Oklahoma in the next round. The Wolverines beat the Sooners earlier this season, 16-9, but Oklahoma is the hottest team in the nation right now — it has won 28 games in a row.
The game will take place at 8:30 p.m. CST Saturday.