By Justin Meyer , Daily Sports Writer
Published April 18, 2014
The scene before the first pitch Friday was exactly the same as any other during Michigan’s 20-game winning streak, except for one thing: there was a nationally renowned team in the opposing dugout.
No. 12 Minnesota, boasting two shutdown pitchers and explosive hitting to match, gave the Wolverines more than they could handle in a 1-0 Gophers victory. It was the end of a 20-game win streak, the first loss at Alumni Field this season and a sobering dose of reality for Michigan.
The fifth-ranked Wolverine’s remarkable run through Big Ten play was also something of a cakewalk, outscoring opponents 182-20 in games that never featured a ranked team.
It was immediately apparent that Minnesota wouldn’t be the type of opponent to roll over.
And it didn’t help that Michigan couldn’t buy a hit. Sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero and sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence both went hitless on the night, uncharacteristically swinging at bad pitches as the Minnesota pitchers downed batter after batter.
Only two players registered a hit in the game for the Wolverines: senior outfielder Lindsay Doyle and senior designated hitter Taylor Hasselbach.
“I didn’t think we did what we practiced all week,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We hit the heck out of the ball all week. We spent a week preparing for them. Hopefully we get mad, we’ll be better with a chip on our shoulder.”
The Gophers broke through in the third, capitalizing on a Michigan miscue, this time a hit batter by Wagner, to put runners in scoring position. The Gopher’s freshman Sara Groenewegen, a pitcher who plays first when not starting in the circle, drove in the run with a hard single to shortstop.
Romero nearly turned the double play, but the throw to first came in high as Minnesota scored what would prove to be the game-winning run.
After scoring, Minnesota turned over the game to its aces. Senior Sara Moulten started for the Gophers and registered the win. Moulten, who has been one of the top pitchers in the Big Ten with a 1.68 earned-runs-average, outdueled Wagner on the mound in what turned into pitcher’s game.
Moulten was replaced in the fifth inning by freshman standout Sara Groenewengen, in an attempt to limit the amount at bats the Wolverines could get against each pitcher. Groenewengen also turned in an excellent performance, allowing no hits in 2.2 innings.
The defense kept Michigan in the game, though, even allowing for a comeback attempt in the bottom of the seventh. Freshman second baseman Abby Ramirez nearly pulled off a spectacular diving play in the top of the sixth to help the struggling Wagner get out of the inning, but her glove flip to Sierra Romero was just off the mark.
“Our defense starts on the mound,” Hutchins said. “We need to come out there and attack. I didn’t think Haley was in ‘Attack.’ She threw some great pitches and then gave up some 0-2 count hits, which is unacceptable.”
Later that inning, Hutch pulled Wagner after a discussion on the mound, replacing her with junior Sara Driesenga.
“I thought I did pretty well,” Wagner said. “I felt very comfortable out there and they just kept getting little hits that kept falling in. Maybe it rattled me a little bit. It was a whole team win or team loss today.
“It was definitely great competition and they just got bat on the ball.”
Driesenga finished the game with four straight outs, but it wasn’t enough to inspire a rally from the Wolverines.
The Wolverines put a runner on second after a walk and a Driesenga sacrifice bunt, but Groenewenger settled down and silenced the Wolverines bats just as Minnesota had all game. Junior catcher Lauren Sweet struck out swinging and pinch-hitting freshman Kelly Christner popped out to left to end the game.
Michigan now returns to Alumni Field Saturday night as the team with something to prove.
“Oh, we’re going to rebound,” Lawrence said. “We don’t like losing.”