Michigan defeats Cal, secures 16th regional title

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 19, 2013

Momentum can be a fickle thing.

Leading off in the bottom of the second inning for the No. 18 California softball team, sophomore third baseman Danielle Henderson took the first pitch she saw and crushed it to right field.

The ball rolled to the warning track while she headed for second as junior right fielder Nicole Sappingfield picked up the ball and threw to senior second baseman Ashley Lane.

And as Lane caught the ball, Henderson ignored her coach, holding her at second, and cruised toward third base. Lane fired the ball to senior Amy Knapp, who scooped the ball up as Henderson slid and applied the tag with umpire Dani Newman looking right at her.

She pumped her fist. Out.

Momentum shifted.

The momentum swing was crucial as No. 8 Michigan defeated the Golden Bears, 3-1, on Sunday, to secure the program’s 16th regional title and advance to their eighth super regional in the last nine years. The Wolverines will host Louisiana-Lafayette next weekend at Alumni Field — where they remain undefeated this season.

“Clearly, making an out at third base is something the coach never wants to see, so it swung the momentum our way in that way,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “But it’s a long game, 21 outs. There’s a lot of game to be played and whether the momentum swung our way or not, I thought the momentum swung the entire game, back and forth and back and forth.

“Our team really had to battle through today, and it got tough for us. I thought it was a great team effort, and we could not be more excited to have practice on Tuesday.”

Added California coach Diane Ninemire: “I held (Henderson) up at second base. She ran through the stop sign.”

The momentum carried over in the third inning, when Michigan scored two runs to take the game’s first lead.

Freshman Sierra Romero recorded her only hit of the game after she smacked a two-run double to score junior center fielder Lyndsay Doyle and junior right fielder Nicole Sappingfield.

California shortstop Cheyenne Cordes led off the bottom of the frame with a home run to left field off sophomore left fielder Sara Driesenga, just over the head of freshman left fielder Sierra Lawrence.

It was a minor blemish on another stellar performance from Dreisenga. The first-team All-Big Ten selection surrendered five hits and struck out five while walking just one batter.

“We battled through (the game) again, behind the effort of Sara in particular on the mound,” Hutchins said. “I didn’t think she had her best stuff. But she had her heart and that was the most important thing we needed today.”

Added Driesenga: “I definitely had to depend on the defense a little bit more today. They did great, they did exactly what they were supposed to do and to trust them is huge.

“I owe all my teammates for being behind me.”

Golden Bears’ right-hander Jolene Henderson also shined in the circle, despite being two weeks removed from a torn ACL. After throwing a no-hitter on Saturday night against Valparaiso, Henderson gave up seven hits and one walk while striking out six.

But in the sixth inning, junior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard got a hold of a ball from Henderson for her fourth home run of the season.

In the bottom of the seventh, California’s Britt Vonk led off with a walk. Two batters later, junior center fielder Ashley Decker hit a grounder through the right field gap. Standing between a hit and an out, Lane dove for the ball, but collided with Vonk on the play.

The umpires ruled interference, putting runners on first and second for Driesenga and, once again, shifting momentum.

“If it’s already gone by the fielder, we’re not allowed to obstruct and they called obstruction, so I was trying to convince them that she was in the middle of her dive,” Hutchins said. “I didn’t win that fight, I don’t know if you noticed. It turned the lineup over for them, it was huge.”

And as Cordes stepped to the plate, it appeared that momentum had turned against the Wolverines. But Cordes hit a deep line drive to Sappingfield to end the game.

The winner of the super regional will advance to the Women’s College World Series May 31-June 6 in Oklahoma City — where Michigan hasn’t been since 2005, when it won its only national championship.

“It’s a great experience,” Romero said. “It’s crazy that last year I was watching this on TV and now I’m here, so it’s an amazing opportunity.”