Jordan Taylor kept her eyes down and bit the top of her blue No. 7 jersey as she walked past the entire Kentucky team celebrating a walk-off win at home plate.
The cold truth became readily apparent for the No. 2 Michigan softball team in the elimination game: The senior who got the Wolverines there had ended it all.
With a 1-0 lead entering the bottom of the seventh inning, Taylor allowed a leadoff home run to right field and then allowed consecutive walks and a hit batter to load the bases. With Michigan’s hopes quickly fading, Taylor struck out one batter before inducing a game-ending blooper to .151-hitter Annie Rowlands that fell just past first base.
“She was not happy, and I’m sure she was shook up a little bit,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “She got a little tentative and she pitched a little careful. But I told the kids, ‘Jordan didn’t lose the game for us.’ Jordan was outstanding, she pitched her heart out all weekend.
“If it would’ve worked, it would’ve been just a hell of an effort.”
Taylor was unavailable for comment after the game, but the tears that mixed with her eye black, as she hugged her mother and strode into the clubhouse, spoke volumes.
Taylor weaved a gem for six innings at Alumni Field on Sunday, striking out 10 hitters to stake Michigan to a 1-0 lead, but her outing — and her senior season — unraveled with just three outs remaining.
The look of shock on her face as Wildcat pinch runner Macy Allen crossed home plate to end the game showed Taylor’s disbelief. But she wasn’t alone.
“I wasn’t going to believe it until they scored that run that we weren’t going to go in and get more at-bats,” junior third baseman Amanda Chidester said. “I believed Jordan was going to get through it and we’d make some plays. I thought a double-play was going to come, but (Rowlands) found a little hole.”
To Kentucky hurler Rachel Riley, who was the first of the seventh-inning walks, Taylor didn’t seem to lose her composure.
“I was expecting her to come with her A-game, because she’s a great pitcher and I thought she’d have the confidence to get the next few outs,” Riley said. “I was just looking for my pitch, and it never came.”
But Taylor faced equally difficult stretches in both games Saturday — a 7-6 loss to Kentucky and a 9-8 victory over Notre Dame.
Taylor threw 428 pitches in less than two days — allowing 12 runs over four games — but the 10 consecutive balls in the seventh inning were the dagger.
“I had seen her get rattled (Saturday) with us and Notre Dame — I could see it in her face and in the way she’d start throwing her pitches a little crazy,” Rowlands said. “So I do think we did kind of take advantage her being rattled.”
Despite the disappointing finish, Taylor’s weekend cemented her place in Michigan softball history by becoming the winningest pitcher in program history with her 107th victory and passing former ace Jennie Ritter for most career strikeouts with her 1,206th in the fourth inning against Notre Dame on Saturday.
But Taylor was still not altogether pleased with her performance.
“(The record) makes the whole day a little bit better, I guess,” Taylor said after defeating the Fighting Irish. “But I was not happy with my performance, so we’re going to come back tomorrow and have to add to the strikeout count.”
Her strikeout reign mounted to a nearly insurmountable 1,220 total by the end of the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional, but arguably Michigan’s best-ever pitcher saw her career come to a halt with nothing more than a handful of program records, two All-American seasons and four Big Ten championships.
And even for Hutchins, it’s hard to ask for more than that.