Wisconsin eliminates Michigan from Big Ten Tournament

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By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 12, 2013

It wasn’t supposed to end like this — not for the Michigan softball team, at least.

The Big Ten Tournament — being played this weekend for the first time since 2008 — wasn’t supposed to end with the sixth-ranked Wolverines being bounced from play in the semifinals in Lincoln, Neb. It was supposed to end with Michigan (20-2 Big Ten, 45-10 overall), the obvious favorites to win the tournament, hoisting a trophy on Sunday at Bowlin Field.

After taking down Ohio State 3-2 on Friday, the Wolverines paired up against Wisconsin for the first time this season.

But the Badgers (16-7, 41-11) weren’t listening to the talk about a Wolverine team that recently won their conference and found out on Wednesday that six of their players were named to the All-Big Ten first team. And when Wisconsin’s Stefanni LaJeunesse stepped up the plate in the bottom of the first inning, she made it clear that Wisconsin had come to play.

After scoring two runs off of back-to-back doubles, and a single against sophomore left-hander Haylie Wagner, the Badgers managed to load the bases — thanks in part to a fielding error by sophomore catcher Lauren Sweet. Then LaJeunesse was brought into the lineup to pinch hit, and sent a home run over the left-field wall, putting the Badgers up 6-0.

And Wisconsin never looked back en route to a 9-3 victory.

The Wolverines failed to get anything going offensively. Despite having two batters reach base on errors in the top of the first inning, Michigan was unable to plate either of them — and were ultimately held hitless until the fourth inning.

Bats that have come through all season for the Wolverines were silenced on Saturday as Wisconsin junior Cassandra Darrah dominated in the circle, pitching all seven innings and allowing only six hits while striking out four batters. Two of those strikeouts came against freshman shortstop Sierra Romero, who has been an offensive highlight reel this season for Michigan. Romero, who hit .397 during the regular season and recently took home Big Ten Player of the Year honors, struggled at the plate against the Badgers, going 0-for-4.

Sophomore right-hander Sara Driesenga replaced Wagner in the circle after the first inning. She pitched two hitless innings before running into trouble in the bottom of the fourth inning.

After giving up back-to-back infield-singles, Driesenga got the next Badger batter to hit a grounder to Romero. But Romero failed to clean the ball cleanly resulting in an unearned run. In the following inning, Wisconsin again took advantage of a fielding error — Michigan’s third of the day — this time by Driesenga, and put two more runs on the board.

The Wolverines’ only offensive display came in the fifth inning. Driesenga led off with a home run to right field to finally put Michigan on the board. Sweet followed with a walk before senior third baseman Amy Knapp followed with a single through the right. Senior pinch runner Jaclyn Crummey scored on a fielder’s choice and Knapp ran in the final run on a double off the bat of junior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard.

But that was it for the Wolverines, as they went down quietly in the sixth and seventh innings.

Michigan still finishes the conference schedule as regular-season champions and will play host to an NCAA regional this weekend.