Team USA is used to facing challenges on the diamond, but the team found an even more bizarre one before even stepping foot on the playing field.
The team, which fielded two Wolverines, almost didn’t make it to the World Softball Championships in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, as its plane was nearly taken down in a monsoon.
“Our plane almost crashed,” outgoing senior Jennie Ritter said. “(Michigan coach) Carol (Hutchins) thought we were going to die.”
But rather than let the weather push it away, the team made it to the tournament and left a lasting impact, winning the gold medal in its third attempt against powerhouse Chinese Tapei.
Team USA appeared to be on cruise control in the early stages of the tournament, as it won its first four games by a combined total score of 35-3.
One of these victories came in no small part from Ritter, who pitched a perfect game against South Africa, a dominant 15-0 victory for the United States.
Ritter said that even though the South African team didn’t put up much competition, it was exciting to see South Africa put together a team, because it indicated that the sport is expanding around the world.
The United States suffered its first loss in the final game of round robin play, losing to Chinese Taipei 4-2. The United States was then bested by Chinese Taipei again the following day by a score of 5-1.
This forced the United States to play Japan in the next round, where Wolverine junior Samantha Findlay’s walk-off home run gave team USA a 3-2 victory and put the red, white and blue in a rematch against Chinese Taipei to compete for the gold.
Clutch performances from the Wolverines in the final helped the team top its nemesis and earn the gold medal in the process, making the third time a charm with a 4-3 victory.
Ritter, in her final competition as a University athlete, pitched eight innings against Chinese Taipei, and Findlay had another walk-off performance at the plate, this time with a game-ending single.
Ritter, who went 4-0 for the tournament, is currently playing softball professionally with the PFX softball tour – a group of 28 softball players that travels around the country playing demonstration games in different cities.
“It’s a great way to give back to the sport,” Ritter said.
This was not the first time Findlay and Ritter teamed up under the coaching of Hutchins to make a successful run in a tournament.
In the summer of 2005, the duo combined to give Michigan softball its first national championship.
Findlay was named the College World Series’s Most Outstanding Player after hitting an extra-inning three-run home run to clinch the title for the Wolverines.
Ritter carried the team in the circle all tournament long, earning a win in every one of the Wolverines’ victories en route to a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
Ritter was also named Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year following her dominating junior season with Michigan.