Wolverines win Regional title

Terra Molengraff/Daily
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins and the softball team are heading to Alabama for the NCAA Super Regional. Buy this photo

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 20, 2012

Update: The Tuscaloosa Super Regional that was originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday has been moved to Thursday and Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Kent. – One pitch at a time.

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins preaches the motto before, during and after every game.

And from the moment Louisville pitcher Tori Collins threw the first pitch at 1:04 P.M. on Sunday, the No. 21 Michigan softball team dominated each and every inning.

The Wolverines (42-15) used consistent pitching from freshman left-hander Haylie Wagner, timely hitting by seniors Amanda Chidester and Bree Evans, solid defense from senior third-baseman Stephanie Kirkpatrick and smart base running all around to win, 4-1.

“I thought our kids were brilliant in one area in particular, and it was one-pitch softball,” Hutchins said. “We harped on that all day. We told them before the game, don’t worry about whether we get (a win), just worry about one pitch.”

It was the first game of the weekend that Michigan didn’t need to win on a walk-off play. Having already defeated No. 9 Louisville on Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines had the added advantage of rest while the Cardinals had to play Kentucky in an elimination game.

Last year’s stunning loss to Kentucky in the Regional Final saw a top-20 Michigan team upset, but this year, the Wolverines played the role of the underdog and avenged the previous season’s early exit.

Hutchins doesn’t believe that’s the case though.

“I don’t even think about last year,” Hutchins said. “I’m all about 2012 and I’m all about the next game and the next pitch.”

Wagner — pitching her third game in as many days — endured the hot weather to pick up her 32nd win. She went the distance, allowing just five hits and just one walk.

Wagner's defense, however, recorded three double plays to save her from some tight situations.

“Louisville definitely came out swinging and they had already seen me,” Wagner said.

The Wolverines got on the board in the first inning, working pitch counts from Louisville starter Tori Collins, who struggled with her control.

“It’s smart on their part because I wasn’t finding the strike zone,” Collins said.

Michigan began with a walk to sophomore left-fielder Nicole Sappingfield and a single by Chidester, before Sara Driesenga was walked to load the bases. Junior second-baseman Ashley Lane slapped a single to score both Sappingfield and Chidester for a 2-0 lead.

The Wolverines would tack on another run in the second inning, this time off of Louisville pitcher Caralisa Connel, who came in for relief of Collins. Sophomore right-fielder Lyndsay Doyle started the inning with a leadoff single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and then to third on a pop out. Driesenga hit a single to score Doyle and reach base for her 31st consecutive game this season.

Leading off the fourth inning, Evans extended her hitting streak to 13 games this season — the longest streak by any Michigan player this season. She would move to second on a Sappingfield groundout before Chidester recorded her 199th career RBI with a single.

Louisville would attempt a comeback in the seventh inning with back-to-back singles, on hits by Alicja Wolny and Jordan Trimble, though it would fall short after Wagner closed out the inning.

“We wanted to come out and attack them,” Chidester said. “I thought that our energy level right from the start was great. We executed our game plan perfectly and it worked to our advantage.”

Michigan will take on Alabama next in a Super Regional matchup in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Crimson Tide are ranked second in the country and won three straight games to advance in their region.

“They’re going to need good momentum going into Alabama,” said Louisville coach Sandy Pearsall on Michigan’s upcoming series. “They are going to have a tough Super Regional, but if they can do some of the things they did this weekend then I think they’re in the top four of the bracket.”

But the Wolverines — now on a nine-game winning streak — won’t be thinking about the College World Series. They’ll be thinking about the first pitch on Friday.