With one out and a runner at first, Missouri designated player Chloe Rathburn took a cut at a 0-1 pitch. The ball exploded off her bat, staying in play as it rocketed into the left side of the infield.
It was the top of the seventh inning, and the No. 2 Michigan softball team needed just two more outs to clinch a victory over the 17th-ranked Tigers in the first game of the NCAA Super Regional in Ann Arbor.
Rathburn had hit a two-run homer off junior right-hander Megan Betsa earlier in the game, and it appeared she had just tallied another base hit.
But Lindsay Montemarano had a different idea.
The junior third baseman was able to make a play on the hard-hit ball, fielding it cleanly with her glove near third base before shifting it to her right hand and throwing a strike to second base to force out the lead runner for the second out of the inning.
“Hutch kept telling me to play behind the bag on her,” Montemarano said. “I just knew that the coaches knew where to put me. Every time Megan throws the ball, I’m expecting it to come at me. So I was just ready to make a play when I had to.”
Her play drew cheers from the crowd at Alumni Field, and was pivotal in extinguishing any chance Missouri had at a late rally.
And for Montemarano, her defensive efforts at third base were part of what was a complete performance Saturday.
She accounted for 60 percent of her team’s offensive output, tallying one RBI when she was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the first inning and adding two more in the bottom of the fifth off a two-run blast.
The homer came at a crucial point in the game — Michigan had jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning, but Missouri had kept the Wolverines scoreless in the following three frames while whittling Michigan’s lead down to one.
The Wolverines were looking for a spark, and Montemarano provided it by clubbing the first pitch she saw from Missouri left-hander Paige Lowary over the left-field wall to stretch Michigan’s lead back to three.
“I think I ran pretty fast around the bases,” Montemarano said. “I normally don’t run very fast when I hit a homerun, but I was very excited to get home to my teammates and celebrate with them. It’s always great because you’re doing it for them. We’re all out there fighting, and I was just looking to put a good swing on a good pitch.
“I wasn’t looking for a perfect pitch — I don’t even know where it was. I just knew it was somewhere in the zone, and I attacked it. That’s what we focus on: putting good swings on good balls. I can’t control where it goes, but I can control the at-bat.”
Added Michigan coach Carol Hutchins: “That’s why we put her out there. We have a lot of confidence in (Montemarano), and she gets it done regardless of where she’s at in the order and plays fantastic defense for us. She was a big spark plug for us today.”
Montemarano’s Saturday production from the No. 7 spot in the lineup reflected the improvement she has made since arriving in Ann Arbor.
This season, she has hit .321 with nine home runs and 39 RBI after recording a combined eight homers, 36 RBI and a sub-.300 batting average over the first two years of her career.
The defensive prowess was always there — Montemarano carried a fielding percentage above .940 in both of her first two seasons— but now, the junior third baseman has evolved into a threat both at the plate and in the field for her team.
“Monte’s a very good softball player, and she always has been,” Hutchins said. “She’s gotten better every year, and that’s all we can hope for.”