By Kelly Hall, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 4, 2014
Leading into Sunday’s rubber match against Wisconsin, the Michigan softball team knew it had a share of the Big Ten championship. A win Sunday would have given it its seventh straight title outright.
But Wisconsin had another outcome in mind, breaking the Wolverines’ hearts in a 6-5, nine-inning thriller.
“I thought we got a lot better this weekend and we played every inning and our process is so much better,” Hutchins said. “It was a great game. Obviously we had a lot of opportunities and didn’t get the timely hit, but it wasn’t our turn that way.”
This time, the tide turned in the most unlikely spot. In the top of the ninth inning, Wisconsin second baseman Sara Novak — who came in batting .185 but drove in six runs Friday — fell behind 0-2. Then, she smacked the 0-2 pitch just over the wall in left field, giving the Badgers a one-run lead.
That was all they got, but it was enough. Michigan’s bottom three hitters went down in order, ending the game and forcing the Wolverines to split their seventh straight Big Ten title with Nebraska.
Freshman right-hander Megan Betsa continued her dominant play against Wisconsin (15-7 Big Ten, 33-17 overall) until the fourth inning after she struck out the side in the second.
In a tie game, Wisconsin elected to pitch to sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero in the third inning, but unlike her previous at-bat, she had senior right fielder Nicole Sappingfield in scoring position. Romero hit a line-drive homer into the right-field bleachers to bring in the first two runs of the game.
The Badgers shook Betsa’s composure in the fourth when she allowed a single and a double to put runners on second and third. Shortstop Ashley Van Zeeland reached first on a fielder’s choice, and with the bases loaded, Hutchins pulled Betsa and put in junior right-hander Sara Driesenga in the middle of the count.
Unable to throw a strike on her first pitch, Driesenga walked in a run. A single to right field scored two more, and then the fourth came in on a dropped tag by Blanchard at first, Michigan’s third error of the game.
Senior center fielder Lyndsay Doyle matched the Badgers’ energy when she followed up with her first homer of the season — on Senior Day, no less — driving in Montemarano as well. The two-run shot tied the game at four.
“It’s something you can’t really express because coming to home plate with your entire team right there is probably the best moment any athlete can feel,” Doyle said. “It’s so amazing, the energy that they bring and how proud they are when you do something like that. I think that by far has been one of my favorite moments.”
The Wolverines were able to load the bases again, but opportunity was stolen from Michigan when second baseman Sara Novak snagged a line drive to close out the fourth.
After two scoreless innings, the game was still tied going into the seventh. With only a runner at first and two outs, it appeared that the Wolverines would head into the bottom of the seventh with little pressure, but Driesenga allowed a double to left field that drove in Peace, giving the Badgers the one-run lead they needed.
Hasselbach came to bat in the bottom of the seventh knowing that she needed to do something in order to save the series against Wisconsin — and she did. She crushed the first pitch over the bleachers to tie it up again.
“I was (trying to) relax, it’s not live or die, just stay relaxed and do what I do and see the ball,” Hasselbach said. “That’s all I was thinking.”
The Badgers brought in right-hander Cassandra Darrah to relieve starter Taylor-Paige Stewart, and Darrah preserved the tie game.
After Wisconsin went 1-2-3 in the eighth, the top of the lineup was due up for Michigan. After Doyle singled up the middle, Sappingfield followed with another single through the right side. Romero uncharacteristically flew out to left, but then Blanchard was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Lawrence. Michigan failed to capitalize when Lawrence popped up and Hasselbach struck out.
The strikeout gave way to Novak’s homer in the top of the ninth, the run that would win the series for the Badgers and crush the Wolverines’ hopes of being outright champions.
“I think everyone just needs to get a little bit better,” Hasselbach said. “We’re starting to get that fire under us and our confidence back, but it’s all about getting better so we’re going to do that this week and get prepared for the Big Ten Tournament.”