OKLAHOMA CITY — With her season one out away from coming to an end, co-captain Jaclyn Crummey came up to bat looking to start a rally. But after she had played hero two innings before, the senior could do nothing more than watch strike three pass by.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Crummey had stepped up to the plate for her 67th career at-bat. Sixty feet later, it was Crummey — a pinch runner her entire career — who stood on first base as No. 8 Michigan softball team’s savior in the Women’s College World Series with her second hit of the game and third-career RBI.
The Wolverines were six outs away from forcing a second matchup against No. 1 Oklahoma, but two defensive miscues later, the Wolverines saw the narrow 1-0 lead turn into a three-run deficit.
Michigan ultimately fell 4-1 to No. 11 Washington on Sunday, concluding its season and sending the Wolverines home after their first trip to the WCWS since 2009.
“Although the loss always hurts, I’ve got to tell you what — I’m proud of this group,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “They’re great Michigan women and they represent this University with class. They play hard. They play hard for Michigan and they play hard for each other.”
Whereas the defense sparkled in a 2-0 victory over No. 5 Arizona State the night before, the Wolverines’ season-long weakness was exploited for four runs in the sixth. Sophomore catcher Lauren Sweet launched a throw home from freshman shortstop Sierra Romero into right field, but Romero was called for interference at second base.
To add insult to injury in the bottom of the frame, Romero attempted to advance to second after tagging up at first base but was caught stealing for the Wolverines’ first out. Two batters later, Washington first baseman Hooch Fagaly — a cornerstone of the second-best defense in the nation — scooped a throw in the dirt to retire junior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard
Through the first five innings, sophomore pitcher Sara Driesegna was business as usual. The right-hander induced 12 ground balls and scattered three hits before unraveling in the sixth inning.
“She’s put this team on her shoulders so many times, throughout the preseason, the early season and in the big games,” Hutchins said. “When she didn’t have her best moments, she always came back really tough. She’s a tough kid, a tough pitcher and she’s only going to get better and better. But she’s a large reason why we’re here.”
But behind Driesenga, Michigan was unable to connect against Washington pitcher Bryanna Walker, who struck out four through as many innings. Unlike her opponent, Walker was able to retire the Wolverines in the air. Walker obtained five pop-outs in her first four innings while yielding a single hit to Crummey in the third.
In fact, the Wolverines’ first runner in scoring position came with two outs in the fifth inning when freshman shortstop Sierra Lawrence — who reached on a fielder’s choice — stole second base.
“(Walker) did a great job pitching,” Romero said. “It didn’t fall in our favor. She did a good job mixing up speeds. She’s one of the slowest pitchers we saw, so we just had to adjust.”
After scattering three hits through the first five innings, pitching to contact caught up with Driesenga. The drop-ball pitcher allowed four hits in the frame en route to all four earned runs.
“The game plan was the same,” Driesenga said. “Just go right at them and trust the defense, trust myself and trust the movement on my pitches. I mean, there is a lot.”
Despite the loss, this Michigan team — including its departing seniors — will remember this season fondly. This year’s team continued the tradition of sending every recruiting class to the WCWS at least once since Hutchins took over.
“Obviously, we didn’t accomplish our full goal, but I mean, I couldn’t ask to be with a better group of girls,” said senior second baseman Ashley Lane. “Yeah, we fought. We fought this entire year in this tournament. I’m happy. I’m happy with what we did. My emotions? They’re all over the place, but just mostly because I just don’t want to be done. I just don’t want to be done playing this sport with these girls next to me with this coach.”
Added Hutchins: “They’ll remember that they committed to all the values of this program, and they committed to Michigan, and they have sacrificed a lot of their own personal things to be a part of this great team. Those are the lessons that take them to the next level in their life. They’re a part of something bigger than themselves, and they just do a fantastic job of it.”