Tiffany Haas didn’t want to leave it up in the air. A win
away from clinching the outright Big Ten regular-season title, the
second baseman saw runners on each base in the eighth inning of a
tied game and knew this was her chance. Haas came through and
launched a pitch over the fence in right-center for a grand slam,
giving the Wolverines a 7-3.

Michigan Softball
Michigan will host the Big Ten Tournament May 13-15. (TONY DING/Daily)

The past weekend was quite the paradox for the No. 6 Michigan
softball team. Despite a disappointing pair of splits against
Michigan State and Northwestern, the Wolverines had reason to
celebrate as they claimed the 2004 Big Ten regular season
championship as well as the right to host the conference
tournament.

Though Sunday ended with Haas’s grand slam, Michigan lost
the first game of the double header in the same fashion. In the
sixth inning, Northwestern designated player Garland Cooper slugged
a grand slam to clinch a 6-4 win.

The Wolverines were disappointed after losing two of their first
three games on the weekend, but it was their mental attitude that
kept them striving for the title.

“We did not play our best,” Michigan coach Carol
Hutchins said. “But our heart was in it, and that’s
what matters.”

In their second game against the Wildcats, the Wolverines fell
behind early, but Michigan catcher Monica Schock connected for her
first home run of the season to tie the game at two.

After Michigan sophomore Jennie Ritter relieved junior Nicole
Motycka in the eighth inning, the Wildcats pulled ahead 3-2.

But Michigan responded immediately, as third baseman Grace
Leutele led off the bottom of the eighth with a solo home run,
setting the stage for Haas’s game-winner.

Leutele was also a factor in the Michigan State series. On
Saturday, she hit a game-winning single in extra innings.

On Friday, the Spartans handed Michigan their first home loss of
the season. Ritter pitched a solid game going all seven innings,
but allowed two-run outbursts in the third and sixth innings in the
4-3 loss.

Friday night also marked the return of Michigan shortstop
Jessica Merchant, who had sat out six games after severely
spraining her ankle in Iowa City several weeks ago.

Merchant, who has already broken the school’s
single-season homerun record and is headed for the career mark,
obliterated any lingering doubts by sending the first pitch she saw
over the fence in left-center. It was Merchant’s 15th homerun
of the year.

Hutchins was happy to have Merchant back.

“I don’t think (Merchant) is 100 percent,”
Hutchins said. “She is a great player and does a lot for our
team.”

The in-state rivalry drew a crowd of 1213 fans on Friday night,
the fifth largest in program history and the second largest during
regular season play.

The Wolverines will now focus on a pair of non-conference
match-ups against Western Michigan and Florida State beginning at 4
p.m. on Saturday.

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