Down to its final three outs in the seventh inning after No. 17 Missouri hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth, the No. 2 Michigan softball team wouldn’t go down with a fight. Though junior left fielder Kelly Christner and senior right fielder Kelsey Susalla had both been 0-for-3 on the day, they came up clutch to give the Wolverines a dramatic 5-4 victory over the Tigers in the NCAA Super Regional as well as a berth into the Women’s College World Series.
With two outs in the inning, Christner and Susalla hit a single down the rightfield line and a double to left-center field, respectively, to tie the game at 4-4 for the Wolverines. Michigan began its late-game rally when junior third baseman Lindsay Montemarano reached base after Tiger shortstop Sami Fagan lost a routine popup in the sun. Junior shortstop Abby Ramirez and senior center fielder Sierra Lawrence followed with singles that loaded the bases for senior second baseman Sierra Romero, who hit a deep sacrifice fly to center to cut Missouri’s lead to 4-2. The Wolverines had some help on their final run, as a rattled Tiger pitcher Paige Lowary threw a wild pitch that scored Christner from third to give Michigan its game-winning run.
“I told (the team) their hearts are so blue, and the reason why we’re still playing is because of their heart,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “And whether we won that game or we lost that game, or won this tournament or lost this tournament, I would have loved them no matter what because these kids give us all they can every year.”
The Wolverines had struggled on offense throughout the game, but Montemarano was able to give her team the lead for the second straight day. In the top of the second inning, she launched a solo shot to deep center to put Michigan ahead 1-0.
The Wolverines had failed to take advantage in the first inning when senior center fielder Sierra Lawrence led off the game with a first-pitch single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Usually, that spells good news for Michigan, which frequently pounces on opportunities to score early in games — including a three-run opening frame in Saturday’s victory. But this time, the Wolverines went down tamely via a popout and two flyouts.
Meanwhile, junior right-hander Megan Betsa and the defense behind her kept the Wolverines in the game. Montemarano came up with another big play — this time with her glove — in the bottom of the fourth, as Betsa found herself in a bit of trouble with two outs and runners on first and second. When a tough one-hopper bounced toward Montemarano at third, she managed to corral it and then step on the bag ahead of the oncoming runner to escape the jam.
Missouri finally broke through against Betsa in the fifth inning. Though she seemed to injure her back early in the frame, she stayed in the game, and the Tigers responded with a single and then a double to the gap in left-center field that brought the runner all the way home to tie the game at one run apiece.
Though Betsa rebounded quickly thereafter, striking out the batter to strand the runner at second and limit the damage to one run, Missouri chased her out of the game in the sixth with a leadoff double. After Betsa intentionally walked their designated player, fifth-year senior right-hander Sara Driesenga replaced her. But Driesenga didn’t escape the inning unscathed, giving up a three-run homer with two outs to give Missouri a 4-1 lead late in the game.
But after the Wolverines responded with a huge four-run inning in the top of the seventh to retake the lead, Betsa returned to the circle to close out the game. With three more outs, Michigan captured a 5-4 win and booked a return trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
“Team 39 has fought really hard, and usually they fight themselves first,” Hutchins said. “They’ve had high expectations all year and had to work through the burden of it. I’m looking forward to getting to Oklahoma City so we can finally just enjoy playing. I haven’t cried like this after a win since we won the national championship, so I couldn’t be prouder.”