In her previous ten starts, Megan Betsa did not allow a run in the first inning. In her 11th, though, the junior right-hander allowed three to Oklahoma, which leads the nation in hitting with a .355 clip. Betsa’s first pitch hit the helmet of Sooner right fielder Erin Miller, and her start didn’t get much better. Caleigh Clifton hit a bloop single and Miller was able to reach third. Clifton stole second and then Shay Knighten — who hit a walk-off home run in No. 3 Oklahoma’s victory over Alabama Friday night — singled up the middle, scoring both Miller and Clifton. It would be six batters and three runs later before Betsa got her first out of the inning.
And for the first time in many weeks, the second-ranked Michigan softball team found itself in an early hole. It was also the first game in the NCAA tournament that the Wolverines had not crossed the plate before their opponents. It would end as Michigan’s first loss of the tournament, putting the Wolverines on the brink of elimination from the Women’s College World Series.
Oklahoma would put four runs on the board before Michigan’s first run. The Wolverines climbed back with three runs in fourth, but it was not enough. The Sooners defeated Michigan, 7-5, Saturday night.
In the third inning, Michigan had runners in scoring position with one out and failed to score, one example of how it failed to capitalize on its opportunities early on.
Betsa notched her first one-two-three inning in the top of the fourth and Michigan got on the board in the bottom half. Senior right fielder Kelsey Susalla led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch. Tera Blanco struck out but then Aidan Falk stepped up to the plate. Falk did not get a hit and struck out twice in Friday night’s game. Saturday though, she smacked an 0-1 pitch over the right field fence that just hooked fair for a two run home run. But the Wolverines were not done.
Sophomore designated player Amanda Vargas — in her first start of the NCAA tournament — doubled to left-center field. Junior shortstop Abby Ramirez walked and senior centerfielder Sierra Lawrence hit an infield single past the pitcher to load the bases for Sierra Romero — the all-time NCAA leader in grand slams. The senior second baseman didn’t drive the ball over the fence, but she did knock in a run on a ball slowly-hit toward third, fielded by her sister Sydney. Sydney Romero’s throw was just a tad late and Sierra reached base safely to bring the score to 4-3. Oklahoma left-hander Paige Parker thwarted the rally, though, as she struck out junior left fielder Kelly Christner looking, leaving the bases loaded. It was one four times that Michigan struck out looking.
“The gameplan was to swing,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We took a lot of pitches that we needed to swing at. We took some good cuts (and) we hit the ball well at times, but we also were timid at times. You can’t take a pitch off at a game like this.”
The Sooners used speed to their advantage early, stealing five bases. Wolverines’ catcher Aidan Falk failed to throw out any of the runners who attempted to steal. Prior to Saturday’s game, the sophomore had caught just three base runners stealing.
In the circle, Betsa struggled once again against Oklahoma. In February's match-up, the junior-right-hander allowed six runs and failed to pitch out of the third inning. Saturday night, she pitched into the seventh inning, but was removed in favor of Sara Drisenga after walking in a run with the bases loaded. The fifth-year senior right-hander, making her first appearance of the WCWS, induced a ground ball to get a force out. The following at-bat, third baseman Lindsay Montemarano picked up a slow ground ball hit by Sooner left fielder Kady Self, but her throw to first was not in time and another run scored, giving Oklahoma a 7-3 lead.
Oklahoma third baseman Sydney Romero hit her first career WCWS home run in the third inning to give Oklahoma a 4-0 lead. Betsa then settled down, retiring nine of the next 10 batters. The tenth was Sooners’ centerfielder Nicole Pendley, who took Betsa’s first pitch of the sixth inning over the right field fence to give Oklahoma a 5-3 lead.
The Wolverines rallied back in the seventh. Romero began the inning with a walk. Christner and Susalla then struck out. Blanco singled putting runners on first and second. Falk then singled, scoring Romero, and a two out rally ensued. Montemarano singled to left field, scoring pinch runner Nikki Wald. Vargas was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for slap-hitter Ramirez, who entered Saturday’s game with just 15 RBI.
And like she did in the fourth inning, Parker prevented the Wolverines from tallying more runs, getting Ramirez to ground out for the final out of the game and sending Oklahoma to the semifinals.
“I was disappointed,” Hutchins said. “I did not think we were ready to play, and I didn't think our approach was good from the get-go, and as the game went on, we got a little bit better.
“But the name of the game is we out-hit them, but they got key hits, timely hits and a lot of free bases, and I never thought we played well as a team.”
Michigan will attempt to avoid elimination Sunday when it plays Florida State, which it defeated twice earlier this season.