When Michigan coach Carol Hutchins walked into the postgame press conference following the Wolverines’ 1-0 and 6-1 NCAA super regional losses to Virginia Tech on Sunday, not a single player accompanied her.
“Just me,” Hutchins said calmly before she took her seat at the table, which she had shared with her players at every other postgame press conference this postseason.
It was just Hutchins there to answer questions about why her team lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Only the winningest coach in Michigan history was there to reason the decision to pull sophomore pitcher Nikki Nemitz in the final game and replace her with freshman Jordan Taylor in the third, just to bring back Nemitz one out and four Virginia Tech runs later.
And why after taking game one 1-0 on Saturday in a tight pitchers’ duel between Taylor and Virginia Tech’s All-American senior Angela Tincher, the Wolverine defense faltered and looked the sloppiest it had all season the next day.
“When things don’t go our way, I look to the coach first,” Hutchins said. “I make the decisions. You make decisions, and when they work you look brilliant, and when they don’t – that’s the way it goes.”
She may have been protecting her players, but there were few Wolverines with much to celebrate Sunday.
Freshman first baseman Dorian Shaw had her first hit of the weekend, a solo home run once the final game was out of reach. But that still left four Michigan starters hitless in the three-game series, including senior Samantha Findlay.
Findlay hoped to help the fourth-seeded Wolverines (52-8) avoid their third straight super regional loss. But Findlay and fellow senior co-captain Alessandra Giampaolo will have to settle with just one trip to the Women’s College World Series, when the then-freshman duo and Michigan won the 2005 National Championship.
“My seniors have established careers, and they were part of our greatest moment,” Hutchins said. “It wasn’t meant to be for them this year, and they took us awful close.”
And the fact that Michigan tied a season-high with four errors during its 1-0 loss in game two didn’t help the cause either.
The Wolverines’ defense was nearly flawless in Saturday’s win, but the consistently crisp throws and solid catches were nowhere to be seen Sunday. Key defensive contributors like second baseman Findlay, junior shortstop Teddi Ewing and sophomore catcher Roya St. Clair stumbled.
“The key to (Saturday) was play defense,” Hutchins said. “Defense starts on the mound . Our defense let us down, and it hurt us.”
Meanwhile, the unseeded Hokies had more to enjoy.
Virginia Tech coach Scot Thomas and three of his players filled the chairs behind the same table Hutchins had just occupied alone. The Hokies rejoiced and recollected how it felt for a team of walk-ons and passed-over recruits to upset Michigan.
Tincher pitched all three games, allowing just two runs in 19 innings and struck out 15 in game two, the most the Wolverines have been struck out in a game in three years.
“She seemed to have a different approach for each batter,” Hutchins said. “She didn’t give us anything to get on.
“I thought we needed to continue to get better and lay off some pitches. I didn’t feel we made adjustments, and that’s on us.”