Sophomore right-hander Megan Betsa was handed the ball.
She hit the first batter she faced. Then she hit another. The bases were loaded, and the crowd was watching, once again, as some imposter wearing the number three dealt from the circle.
This wasn’t the Betsa fans grew to love and players grew to fear throughout the regular season. Up to that point, Betsa had allowed nine runs in 14 innings at the Women’s College World Series. But with the odds stacked against her, she finally thrived once more.
Betsa struck out third baseman Taylore Fuller. And she struck out centerfielder Kirsti Merritt. In an improbable fashion, Betsa worked out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam without allowing Florida to score another run.
Suddenly, Betsa had returned.
Senior left-hander Haylie Wagner struggled early against the Gators, allowing three runs — one of which was her first earned run of the WCWS — in the bottom of the first and one in the bottom of the second. She had allowed four runs in two innings and her fairytale tournament abruptly came to an end.
“(Florida) came out attacking and got a hold of the ball,” Wagner said. “I could have spun the ball a little more but I had to go after them and they were fighting right back. They were throwing the same punches we were.”
At that point, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins sent Betsa to the circle to finish the game and to complete the formidable task of holding Florida at bay — and realistically, if the Wolverines wanted to win, she couldn’t allow any runs at all.
Betsa was up to the task, pitching 4 innings of shutout softball, but it wasn’t enough when senior right-hander Lauren Haeger proved too dominant for Michigan’s potent offense.
“As a pitcher, I knew exactly what she was doing,” Wagner said. “She was just coming out attacking us and she has a lot of spin on the ball. She’s a really good pitcher and she deserved that MVP.”
Betsa continued to roll through the third, putting the Gators down in order. Though the fourth wasn’t as smooth for the sophomore she still finished the frame with a zero on the board.
The Wolverines finally produced a run off the bat of junior second baseman Sierra Romero in the fifth, but it still wasn’t enough to threaten Florida. Yet Betsa ensured that any run scored wouldn’t be one wasted, striking out three batters in the bottom of the same frame.
Though it may have been overlooked, the sophomore hurler was proving Michigan with one statistically immeasurable thing: the opportunity to chip away at its deficit, rather than swing for the fences in a desperate search for quick runs.
Betsa still wasn’t perfect, as Wagner replaced her in the bottom of the sixth. The change was prompted when Betsa loaded the bases by hitting two batters and intentionally walking Haeger.
Though the sophomore wasn’t flawless, she still put her team in a position to win by pitching four scoreless innings. And that’s the point: this entire WCWS, Betsa didn’t need to be perfect, she just needed to get the job done.
So despite the fact that the Wolverines couldn’t bring a National Championship back to Ann Arbor, and despite the fact that Betsa wasn’t what she was supposed to be, she finally showed what she’s capable of in the final game against the nation’s toughest opponent.
And with two years left for her to don the maize and blue, there is no telling what she could continue to do for this program, especially after a year spent with Wagner.
“Me and Haylie taught each other a lot,” Betsa said. “She taught me how to be strong and how to be a bulldog in the circle. She was always there to tell me what I was doing wrong. Something she taught me was that I need to play every pitch of the game. I really took from that.”
Oklahoma City didn’t give Megan Betsa a championship trophy, but it gave her a reason to come back with a vengeance.