It looked like the Michigan softball team was about to lose to Notre Dame for the first time since 1999.
Trailing 8-3 with just six outs left, the second-ranked Wolverines’ spirits were down and the Irish seemed to be the only ones fighting. But a late rally in the bottom of the sixth inning shifted the atmosphere at Alumni Field 180 degrees to move Michigan ahead for a final score of 9-8.
“In the sixth inning, I’m not sure what point it was, we finally started playing one-base softball,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “Our goal was to just get a base, not to have big huge swings or hit it over the fence. We got bases loaded; we got a couple runs there.
“That’s when I could sense it. I knew we were in the moment. We hadn’t been in the moment but then we stayed in it.”
The Wolverines (18-2 Big Ten, 53-5 overall) entered the bottom of the sixth facing a five-run deficit, after three unearned runs were scored off two errors by sophomore second baseman Ashley Lane in the top of the inning.
Senior designated hitter Marley Powers took the batter’s box first, coming in 0-for-2 on the day. She led off the charge by doubling down the right-field line. Senior right fielder Alycia Ryan — Michigan’s No. 8 hitter — followed with a walk to ignite Michigan’s dwindling offense.
“I feel the bottom part of the lineup has been doing a great part for us this season,” Hutchins said. “Marley (Powers) has come in and has been outstanding in her role. She’s just persevered and she’s trying to help us win.”
Poweres added: “Before (that inning), our energy was terrible and we weren’t in the moment. Everybody was in different places. But especially by my second at-bat, I felt like we had really pulled together. The energy was amazing.”
The Wolverines batted around the order in the sixth, sending 10 batters to the plate and chasing Fighting Irish pitcher Brittany O’Donnell after she allowed back-to-back singles to junior center fielder Bree Evans and freshman left fielder Lindsay Doyle to load the bases.
Notre Dame (19-1 Big East, 46-11) was still clinging to a 8-3 lead and looked to pitcher Jody Valdivia to save the game. But Valdivia walked her first batter – senior first baseman Dorian Shaw’s third walk of the night – to set the tone for the rest of the inning.
Junior third baseman Amanda Chidester and Lane both knocked in a run to tie the game at eight. Freshman catcher Caitlin Blanchard then sent a long fly ball to right field that served as a sacrifice fly to bring home Shaw for the game-winning run.
With just six hits, the Wolverines scored six runs in the sixth inning to move into the lead.
“They were telling us the whole warm-up that we needed to put the ball on the ground,” Evans said. “Me and Doyle doing that really picks up the rest of the lineup, because we’ve got the power after that. So as long as we can get on base we’ll be set for the rest of the game.”
Senior pitcher Jordan Taylor closed out the seventh for the Michigan win, but not without a threat from the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame’s Katie Fleury doubled to left center to put a base runner on for the Fighting Irish. A sacrifice bunt moved her to third and poised Notre Dame to tie the game at nine with just one out.
But Taylor struck out the next batter to put two outs on the board. A grounder to sophomore shortstop Amy Knapp retired the Fighting Irish, sending the Wolverines to Sunday’s matchup against Kentucky.
“I’ve been here like 30 years,” Hutchins said. “We’ve had some great wins and some great comebacks, but today might take the cake.”
Michigan fell behind early after Notre Dame’s Brianna Jorgensborg hit a two-RBI single in the second inning to open up the game.
The Wolverines rebounded quickly in the bottom of the third, knocking in three runs to go ahead 3-2. The Irish regained the lead in the fourth after Dani Miller hit a two-run home run over the left-field wall. And Notre Dame continued to widen the gap, scoring in every inning until the seventh.
Taylor’s nine strikeouts against Notre Dame moved her into first place in the Michigan softball program for career strikeouts (1,209) over previous record-holder Jennie Ritter. The win over the Fighting Irish also gave her 107 career wins to take that Michigan record.
But despite the history made for her personally, Taylor knows Saturday was not her best outing.
“(The record) makes the whole day a little bit better, I guess,” Taylor said. “But I was not happy with my performance, so we’re going to come back tomorrow and have to add to the strikeout count.”
Michigan will face Kentucky on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. after dropping Saturday’s game against the Wildcats 7-6, despite a late rally. If the Wolverines win the first game, the two teams will face off again to see if Michigan or Kentucky will head to the NCAA Super Regional.