COLUMBUS – Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins has been imploring her players all year to judge their success by their own play – their swings, not their hits; their pitches, not what the opposing hitters do with them; their demeanor, not how it translates into wins and losses.
Well, they’re listening.
For the first time in three years, Michigan didn’t win the Big Ten Tournament. But the Wolverines seemed anything but downtrodden after the loss.
“We wanted to come out this weekend and just play good games and see the ball and hit it and come together as a team, and I think that’s the biggest thing we achieved this weekend, even though we lost,” junior first baseman Samantha Findlay said.
Added freshman rightfielder Angela Findlay: “We’re as together as we could be right now.”
Continuing that trend will be important for Michigan as it enters the NCAA Tournament this weekend. No. 10 Michigan will host a Regional as the ninth overall seed. The Wolverines open Friday with Eastern Michigan, who Michigan beat 3-0 two weeks ago. Louisville, who the Wolverines beat 2-0 in March, and No. 15 Oregon State and are also in the Ann Arbor Regional. Should Michigan win its Regional, the Wolverines would face the winner of the Hempstead Regional, where No. 8 Baylor is favored, in a Super Regional.
Michigan lost 5-2 to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Friday in a rematch of last year’s tournament championship game.
The Wildcats feature a very top-heavy lineup. Their first four hitters bat .374 and the last five hit just .215.
So with that in mind, freshman Nikki Nemitz intentionally walked Northwestern’s cleanup hitter with one out, runners on second and third and Michigan holding a 2-0 lead in the third inning.
But the Wildcats’ bottom hitters produced and snapped Michigan’s 29.2-inning shutout streak in the Big Ten Tournament.
Nemitz followed the base on balls with a hit by pitch and a walk – both on full counts – to score two runs. Nemitz was ahead of both hitters with two strikes.
“Instead of finishing, we just let them get those hits,” Samantha Findlay said. “When we have batters 0-2 and 3-2, we need to shut the door and get them out.”
Hutchins pulled Nemitz in favor of senior Lorilyn Wilson. But Wilson gave up a two-run double to No. 7 hitter Jessica Miller.
“The bottom of the lineup didn’t come through,” junior centerfielder Alessandra Giampaolo said. “We let them come trough.”
Although the all the runs in the critical third inning were credited to Nemitz, Wilson walked three and gave up a run on three hits in her 3.2 innings of work.
It was a far cry from her dominating performance in Michigan’s first round 4-0 win over Illinois (7-8, 30-25).
Wilson retired 21 of the 22 batters she faced in that game, eight by strike out (four looking) in the complete-game shutout.
“I think she was just in the zone,” Samantha Findlay said. “When Lorilyn is on, and she’s throwing her pitches, and she’s turning it on, and she’s smiling, and she’s in the game, she throws well.”
But after seeing how effective Wilson’s riseball was against Illinois, Northwestern coach Kate Drohan instructed her players to lay off the pitch, which helped the Wildcats advance to the title game. Northwestern (15-3, 45-11) lost to regular-season champion Ohio State.