OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — After cruising through the early part of its drive to the Women’s College World Series finals, the Michigan softball team hit a bump in the road in the form of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
Tennessee freshman Tonya Callahan drilled a 1-2 pitch over the left-field wall, giving her a two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning and propelling her team to a 2-0 victory. The home run brought in the only runs of the game and forced a final game to be played between the teams today.
“I knew I had two strikes on me and I had to just go up there swinging the bat,” Callahan said, “I knew I wasn’t going to get anything good, so I took what was given to me.”
Ritter admitted the pitch was not executed as planned.
“It was a rise ball that didn’t rise as high as I wanted,” Ritter said.
The game was back-and-forth up until the dramatic finish, as the Lady Volunteers (67-14) and their ace pitcher, sophomore Monica Abbott, battled with Michigan and its ace, junior Jennie Ritter. The Wolverines (62-6) had runners in scoring position for seven of the 11 innings they batted in, but they failed to get any across home plate.
“We just had the inability to get the big hit when we needed to,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “That’s what fast pitch softball is, it’s timely hitting. We’ve had it all year, and you have to give Monica Abbott credit.”
One of the most costly times of not being able to get a clutch hit came in the Wolverines’ half of the 11th inning. After senior designated player Nicole Motycka reached first base on an error, moving freshman first baseman Samantha Findlay to second base, Michigan had an opportunity to take the lead with just one out. Abbott got junior third baseman Grace Leutele to strike out swinging, before facing junior rightfielder Stephanie Bercaw. Bercaw — who was 3-for-4 for the night when she came to the plate — ended up going around on a checked swing on a lowball with a 3-2 count. The ball got behind the catcher as Findlay and Motycka advanced to third and second, respectively. Bercaw paused before she began running for first. Tennessee freshman catcher Shannon Doepking fired the ball to first base and got Bercaw out by a stride, ending the inning and the potential rally.
“They just got the big hit and we just could not come up with it,” Hutchins said. “We couldn’t move our runners and we just never got the big hit. And that’s what he needed.”
Both Ritter and Abbott were relentless, going the entire distance for both of their respective teams. Ritter had 13 strikeouts while Abbott — who leads the nation with 599 strikeouts this season — had nine. But the story of the night was Abbott’s ability to get out of the tough jams.
Michigan’s beginning of the tournament started on a better note. It began against unranked DePaul (45-21) on Thursday. Ritter went the distance, striking out 12 batters and scattering 3 hits on her way to a 3-0 win. Senior designated player Nicole Motycka’s single in the first inning brought in two runners, while junior second baseman Tiffani Haas added a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Ritter then had her most impressive game of the College World Series the following night against Texas (49-13). She outdueled Texas’ National Player of the Year Cat Osterman in a 4-0 Michigan victory. Ritter didn’t allow a hit after allowing a single to begin the game, and Findlay went 2-for-3 on the night with two RBI.
The winner of today’s rematch between Michigan and Tennessee will go on to face the two-time defending champion UCLA Bruins. The No. 7-ranked Bruins (39-18) qualified for their sixth finals appearance in seven years after beating No. 4 Texas 3-0.
Michigan last faced UCLA last season in the UNLV Desert Classic. The then-No.1-ranked Bruins defeated the Wolverines by a 3-0 margin. The finals are a best-of-three series format.
“We can still win, we can still win the tournament,” Hutchins said. “We just need to stay in the moment and play one game at a time. Obviously we need to try and find to get a way to Abbott.”