OKLAHOMA CITY — When the first pitch of the second elimination game of the Women’s College World Series was thrown, morning dew began to collect on the turf at ASA Stadium where just hours ago, seven inches of rain had settled. The nightcap — which began just six minutes before midnight — followed a 15-inning duel between fellow Big Ten representative Nebraska and No. 2 Florida that lasted five hours and 20 minutes.
Someone forgot to tell freshman shortstop Sierra Romero and sophomore right-hander Sara Driesenga that it was past their bedtime. The pair of underclassmen led the No. 7 Michigan softball team to a 2-0 win on Sunday morning.
“It was fun,” Romero said. “I can’t say I’ve ever played this late, but I’m wide awake. It’s going to be hard for me to fall asleep tonight.”
Despite having been a non-factor throughout most of regional play, Romero was finally the player who stepped up in a big game. It was late, but the game was magnified with the season on the line.
“I didn’t have to keep them awake,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “They were excited, they wanted to play, and we were in such a great place. When they spend all that time together, it just makes them loose.
“It’s been a crazy trip. Nothing has been going particularly smoothly but winning that game is the only thing we care about. You gotta realize these are college kids. They thrive at night.”
In fact, Romero was the only player to step up in the clutch on offense for either team as the Wolverines mustered just six hits — none bigger than the freshman’s two-run home run in the third inning. It was the Romero’s first home run since the final series of the regular season against Northwestern and her 23rd of the season.
“I just hit the ball where she pitched it,” Romero said.
Defensively, both pitchers were able to work in and out of trouble unscathed through the majority of the game.
A double and two walks after Romero’s right-field blast, the Wolverines loaded the bases to force Arizona State right-hander Dallas Escobedo out of the game with one out. But Michigan would strand three runners on base at the hands of right hander Mackenzie Popescue.
In four innings of relief, Popescue scattered three hits and a single walk without surrendering a run to the nation’s second-best offense.
For a Michigan team whose achilles heal all season has been defense, it was an infield led by Driesenga that saved the day.
Driesenga found herself in her toughest jam of the night in the fifth inning. With runners on first and third with no outs, Romero blocked a ball headed into left field to prevent a run. The play was followed with another grounder to Amy Knapp, who got the force at home before sophomore catcher Lauren Sweet completed the double-play with a throw to first. After walking the PAC 12 Player of the Year in sophomore third baseman Hayley Steele to re-load the bases, Driesenga came through again, inducing a strikeout to end the inning.
After allowing a single to start the seventh inning, the sophomore forced a grounder back up the middle to produce a second double play of the night. On the next play, it was Romero who snatched a ball that bounced off of senior co-captain third baseman Amy Knapp and fired to first for the final out of the game.
It was only fitting.
“Romo is Romo,” Hutchins said. “She wins a lot of games for us and she played outstanding.”
Even without her lights-out stuff, Driesenga became the first pitcher to shut out the Sun Devils — who hit .350 as a team — this season.
“We just have the mindset that we’re just going to do whatever it takes, however long it takes. I said before, this team has never lost two games in a row,” Driesenga said. “To be able to come out like we did after Oklahoma just shows how resilient we are and how we keep fighting.”
Added Romero: “She’s amazing. She’s pitched so many games this season and she just never seems to get tired. She’s like a machine and I’m really proud of her.
The Wolverines will have under twelve hours to prepare for a second PAC 12 opponent in Washington at 2:30 CT. Michigan beat the then-No. 18 Huskies 6-1 in the teams’ first meeting at the Judi Garman Classic in March.