OKLAHOMA CITY — After 1299 days of waiting, three more innings couldn’t hurt.
The No.1-ranked Michigan softball team put together its second comeback victory in as many nights, defeating No. 7 UCLA 4-1 in 10 innings to win the 2005 Women’s College World Series. The national championship is the first title that any of the 26 varsity teams at Michigan (65-7) has won since the field hockey team won its title in 2001.
“This is obviously a great moment for Michigan and for Michigan softball and all the alums in the Big Ten Conference,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I’m mostly so proud of these kids because they are incredible and have been all week.”
After several failed attempts by both teams to break the 1-1 tie, freshman Samantha Findlay finally sealed the deal.
Stepping up to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs, Findlay took a 1-1 fastball from UCLA pitcher Anjelica Seldon deep over the leftfield wall. She was met by a swarm of elated teammates at the plate as she, along with teammates Tiffany Haas and Alessandra Giampaolo, crossed the plate to give Michigan a 4-1 lead.
“I tried to keep my head down on the ball because I had been pulling it out earlier,” Findlay said. “I kept my head in and then looked up and saw it go out.”
It was also Findlay who gave Michigan the opportunity to play for the title in extra innings. With the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth inning, Findlay roped a single into right field. That run was the lone run the Wolverines could muster in that inning, as Seldon and the Bruins pulled off a Houdini-like escape. Following Findlay was senior Nicole Motycka, who hit a line drive right down the third-base line. The ball found the mitt of UCLA third baseman Andrea Duran, who then doubled up Giampaolo, who broke from third base early. Seldon then got junior Grace Leutele to strike out looking with a pitch that caught the outside corner of the plate.
“I think that stopping the bleeding that inning — that we did today and hadn’t done yesterday — gave our team a lot of confidence,” Bruins first baseman Lisa Dodd said.
UCLA (40-20) had already established momentum and looked to be in control of the game after jumping ahead in the second inning. With the bases empty and two outs, Dodd — UCLA’s No. 8 hitter — took a 0-1 pitch from Michigan starter Jennie Ritter over sophomore Rebekah Milian’s glove and over the leftfield fence.
After Michigan tied the game up, the best chance for UCLA to seal its third consecutive national championship came in the ninth inning. Kristen Dedmon blooped a leadoff double just short of a diving Giampaolo and was subsequently moved to third base by way of a Krista Colburn bunt. Dodd then found her way to first base after Ritter walked her on four straight pitches. Ritter rebounded by getting Ashley Herrera to pop up to Haas at second base. Duran — who was 2-for-3 on the night coming to the plate — was intentionally walked. Ritter and the Wolverines escaped the inning after Tara Henry hit a sharp grounder to Leutele, who threw it to an outstretched Findlay to secure the third out.
“I knew we could get out of it because we had gotten out of it before,” Ritter said. “I wasn’t worried because I know my defense does a great job.”
Ritter improved her season record to 38-4. She allowed four hits and five walks, striking out four in the process. Findlay’s three hits and four RBI on the night propelled her to Most Outstanding Player honors for the series. She ended the tournament with a .409 batting average, with nine hits and eight RBI — both tops for the series. Findlay, along with Ritter, senior Jessica Merchant and junior Stephanie Bercaw were named to the All-Tournament team.
“It’s just a great team, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to play for,” Findlay said. “I would take this team over any individual awards, because this team has meant the world to me.”
The win was clinched in the bottom of the 10th when Ritter got Dedmon to pop the ball up. Merchant and Leutele both went for the ball, but Merchant ended up being the Wolverine who came away with it. The dugout cleared and mobbed Ritter in the middle of the field — except for Merchant, who ran over and tackled Findlay.
The win gave Michigan its first-ever national championship in softball, and it was only the second title for a woman’s program. It is the 52nd overall championship won by a Michigan varsity program. The Wolverines’ victory also marks the first time a team east of the Mississippi River has won a national championship in softball.