The Michigan softball team has gotten used to home-field advantage for the majority of its recent postseason appearances.
Now it’s Alabama’s turn.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide hosted the 21st-ranked Wolverines in the first game of the best-of-three series in the NCAA Super Regional on Thursday. Alabama won, 4-1, with dominating pitching and great offense.
“We knew coming in what an environment it is in Tuscaloosa,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “Boy, on that field it is so loud. We had trouble talking to our kids at times — they couldn’t hear a thing.”
The Crimson Tide struck first in the bottom of the second frame, scoring on an RBI double, and added two more in the bottom of the fifth inning. Michigan countered with a run of its own in the top of the sixth inning on an RBI double by junior second baseman Ashley Lane, but it wasn’t offense that headlined the evening.
Alabama’s sophomore ace Jackie Traina threw ten strikeouts and only allowed the Wolverines to tally three hits in Thursday’s game.
Just a few days earlier, Hutchins was wary of how her offense would do against one of the nation’s best pitchers, mentioning that Traina pitches well around the strike zone — she currently has tallied 311 strikeouts on the season.
And though the Michigan squad put up 22 runs in three days in the Regional last weekend, it knocked just three balls into play Thursday night.
“We knew it was going to be tough against Traina,” Hutchins said. “We started getting on her toward the end of the game and I’m hopeful that we can carry that into tomorrow and make some adjustments with that.”
In addition to Michigan’s lack of offense came a few defensive mistakes. Unlike last weekend, when the Wolverine defense — led by a terrific performance by senior Stephanie Kirkpatrick in the hot corner — committed just one error, Michigan gave Alabama too many freebies.
In the second inning, Crimson Tide senior Cassie Reilly-Boccia was walked, and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Michigan freshman Haylie Wagner. Boccia then scored from second on an RBI double.
Though senior first baseman Amanda Chidester committed the only error of the evening on a muffed throw, the fifth-inning mishap got the momentum rolling for Alabama, which helped the Crimson Tide score three more runs to push the lead to 4-0.
“They took advantage of every mistake we made,” Hutchins said. “We had a wild pitch that was a run. We make an error at first — we make, whether they called it or not, an error at third and they get three runs out of it. You just don’t do that against Alabama. We can’t give them anything.”
Despite being tagged with her fifth loss of the season, Wagner pitched the complete game, giving up four runs — two earned — on six hits and struck out two. Though her performance was nowhere near the caliber of her Crimson Tide counterpart, Wagner is confident she’s doing her part for the team.
“They’re a great hitting team, so I was expecting them to get hits,” Wagner said. “We just had to go after it and have our defense behind us. I think we’ll get that.”
Michigan faces elimination tomorrow, as the Wolverines take the field for the second game against Alabama at 4:30 p.m. on ESPNU.