OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Different day, same story.
Yesterday, the No. 1-ranked Michigan softball team was faced with an ultimatum: win or go home. Now, one day later, it faces the exact same task.
Just hours after Michigan survived its elimination game against No. 11 Tennessee, the Wolverines (63-7) dropped the opening game of the best-of-three Championship Series to No. 7-ranked UCLA by a score of 5-0. The win puts the Bruins (40-18) one win away from their third consecutive national championship.
“UCLA is UCLA, and they just ate it up,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “Every chance they had, they took advantage of it.”
But the win — which improved UCLA’s record at the World Series to 4-0 — was anything but a certainty for the Bruins. The two teams were deadlocked at zero with only four hits between them entering the top of the sixth inning.
Then the flood gates opened.
After back-to-back controversial at-bats to begin the inning — UCLA leadoff hitter Andrea Duran reached first base after being hit by a pitch that was originally ruled a foul ball, and centerfielder Tara Henry eventually was safe on an error after she appeared to bunt a foul ball with two strikes on her — Bruins second baseman Caitlin Benyi was hit by a pitch. The bases were then loaded with no outs for UCLA’s cleanup hitter, Emily Zaplatosch, who proceeded to do just that — clean up. Zaplatosch broke both the tie and the spirits of the Wolverines when she belted a double to the left-center gap, scoring two runners. Ritter — who had pitched 23 innings and thrown almost 300 pitches in less than 24 hours at that point — was then taken out.
“I was trying to make big contact and rip it out in the outfield,” Zaplatosch said. “I was going to be happy with just one run.”
The onslaught continued. Michigan sophomore Lorilyn Wilson replaced Ritter and threw a wild pitch while facing her first batter. That pitch allowed Benyi to score. RBI singles from Bruins Kristen Dedmon and Lisa Dodd pushed UCLA’s lead to 5-0 — a lead it would not relinquish.
Michigan almost took the lead in the bottom half of the fourth inning. Freshman Alessandra Giampaolo connected on a 1-2 pitch from UCLA starter Anjelica Selden and sent it toward the leftfield wall. It seemed destined to carry over the fence until Bruin leftfielder Ashley Herrera robbed Giampaolo of the home run. Herrera’s glove stretched over the wall and brought the ball back for the first out of the inning. Giampaolo returned the favor in the next inning, making a jaw-dropping catch of her own to take a home run away from Dedmon.
In the early stages of the game, Ritter didn’t need help from the Michigan defense. She pitched three perfect innings to begin the game and struck out six of the first seven batters she faced. But as the game went on, it was evident that the star in the circle for the night was Selden, whose consistent dominance baffled the Wolverines throughout the game. She struck out 11 batters, gave up just four hits and did not allow a runner past first base.
“I just wanted to go out there and not really let them have anything,” Seldon said.
Michigan’s spot in the finals was clinched earlier in the day against Tennessee (67-15). Less than 10 hours after the end of their dramatic 11-inning game the night before, the two teams faced off once again. But unlike in the previous game, the Wolverines were able to solve Tennessee ace Monica Abbott. Freshman Samantha Findlay knocked in Giampaolo with a single that found its way in between the Lady Vols shortstop and third baseman. But the real solution to the Abbott equation was provided by junior Stephanie Bercaw.
Bercaw — who had three of the six hits on Abbott the night before — put the Wolverines ahead 3-0 in the fourth inning after a two-run blast over the leftfield wall. The homer plated Findlay and gave Michigan insurance that they ended up needing.
Ritter allowed two runs in the fifth inning when pinch hitter Natalie Brock doubled in two Tennessee baserunners. But Ritter and the fatigued Wolverines dug deep and held the lead, advancing themselves into the Championship Series.
“Being tired wasn’t an option,” Ritter said. “It didn’t matter how late we got in because we knew we had to come out and play. We were ready.”
The Wolverines hope to replicate their performance in the elimination game against Tennessee when they take on the Bruins tonight.
“I just feel like we have a great softball club and we’ll be ready to play,” junior second baseman Tiffany Haas said. “We’ll be ready to play Michigan softball.”