Montemarano, bottom of lineup lift Michigan past Illinois in Big Ten Tournament

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By Kelly Hall, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 9, 2014

On Michigan’s biggest stage of the season, an unlikely hero stepped up for the Wolverines.

Freshman third baseman Lindsay Montemarano hit a two-run bomb over the scoreboard in the second inning to give Michigan the boost it needed to start strong against Illinois. That sparked hitting late in the game, including senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard’s grand slam, in the Wolverines’ 8-2 victory in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.

Led by Montemarano, production in the bottom of the order picked up for the lacking top in the early innings. The game started with senior center fielder Lyndsay Doyle and senior right fielder Nicole Sappingfield striking out or grounding out in their first two at-bats. Sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero followed them and singled in the first inning, but then she popped up in her second at-bat.

In the second inning, junior catcher Lauren Sweet stepped up and doubled after two consecutive outs. When Montemarano followed Sweet, she didn’t have as many jitters as a normal freshman in the Big Ten Tournament would in a pressure situation. Her confidence showed.

“I was a little bit nervous because it’s down to win or go home, but I didn’t let that affect me,” Montemarano said. “It’s just one-pitch focus, and we have a whole team. Everyone has a part, and we’re all there for each other.”

After previous losses, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has voiced concern about the top of the lineup not producing, and today she stressed the importance of the entire order.

“The bottom of the lineup needs to do their part, which is to make some things happen,” Hutchins said. “Sweet had a great day. Monty had a great day. That’s key for us, and we just try to keep people realizing that they just have to do their part, they don’t have to win the whole game.”

Michigan was justified in its worries about Illinois. The Wolverines have dropped the first game of the past three series, including a 10-2 run-rule loss in Champaign on April 25.

The Fighting Illini (7-16 Big Ten, 24-26 overall) had an eight-game losing streak in mid-April, but recently, they haven’t looked like that team lately. With freshman right-hander Brandi Needham on a hot streak and four hitters batting above .300, Illinois went into the game Friday riding momentum from the day before and displaying a renewed sense of confidence.

Michigan responded to the loss to Illinois two weeks ago with fight, winning the next two, but was shaken after a losing to a team it had no business losing to. After the game against the Wolverines, the Illini won the next four, including a series against Penn State and a tournament game Thursday against Iowa. In order to prevent Friday from being the last day of the season, they had to beat the Wolverines.

Though the final score didn’t reflect a close game, Illinois put up a hard fight. The game was close until the fifth inning, when Michigan gained a five-run lead. The Illini had eight hits and had a player on base every inning besides the fifth. Even defensively, the Fighting Illini held up well into the fourth, when senior designated player Taylor Hasselbach batted into a double play.

But that wasn’t enough to stop Blanchard’s grand slam in the fifth.

The Wolverines distanced themselves further from the Illini when the bottom of the order came through again. Both Montemarano and Sweet scored once more. Thanks to the versatility Michigan’s roster — even in the most unlikely places — the Wolverines were finally able to win the first game of a weekend.