In the 2010 renewal of the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional, the Michigan softball team saw déjà vu.
For the second year in a row, the Wolverines were required to beat Notre Dame twice in order to advance in the 64-team tournament.
But this time around, the Irish never had a fighting chance.
Michigan dominated every aspect of both games, winning 8-0 on Saturday and 12-2 in the regional final on Sunday.
Notre Dame entered the tournament ranked 25th with an impressive 45-10 record, just one win shy of Michigan’s record. They had four selections to the All-Great Lakes first team, which was just two fewer than Michigan.
But neither coach expected to see a pair of blowouts.
“To come back and attack Notre Dame the way we did was just outstanding,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I thought it started in the circle. (Junior pitcher Jordan Taylor) attacked them.”
The Notre Dame lineup, which was batting .035 higher than Michigan’s lineup coming into the regional, was no match for Taylor. She struck out 22 Irish batters in 12 innings of work, walking only one.
And the Wolverine lineup wasn’t intimidated by Notre Dame pitcher Jody Valdivia, who got the start in both games and entered the tournament with 36 wins and a 1.72 ERA.
“They did a good job of jumping on my pitches that I missed,” Valdivia said. “I didn’t help by putting the runners on and walking people. I got behind, and they did a good job waiting for their pitch and attacking it.”
On Saturday, Valdivia was chased from the mound after a third inning in which she gave up a pair of three-run bombs, one to senior third baseman Maggie Viefhaus and the other to senior designated player Nikki Nemitz.
Viefhaus’ shot ended up in the Ray Fisher baseball stadium outfield, a solid 50 feet past the Alumni Field center field fence.
And she wasn’t done there.
On Sunday afternoon, Viefhaus went long off Valdivia two more times — a solo shot in the first and a three-run blast in the third to help the Wolverines take the lead for good.
“If I knew I would tell you,” said Valdivia when asked how Viefhaus found such success. “I’m going to give her a lot of credit — I think she does a great job of hitting. She makes you miss and then waits for that pitch that comes right through the zone.”
At the beginning of the season, Viefhaus and junior first baseman Dorian Shaw set an end-of-season goal of 50 combined home runs.
And with five more between the pair this weekend (Shaw launched two in Friday’s regional opener against Wright State), that goal looks more and more achievable. They share the team lead now with 20 home runs apiece.
Both are one homer away from tying the program’s single-season home run record.
But as big as the long ball was for the Wolverines this weekend, Hutchins has been looking to balance it with small ball.
“We try to make things happen and catch people off guard,” Hutchins said after the first game with Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon. “I know the scouting report on us is that we don’t bunt. So, maybe we will.”
Hutchins called for four sacrifice bunts this weekend, including two perfect ones laid down by sophomore second baseman Amanda Chidester to move runners into scoring position.
“We always work on bunts in practice,” Chidester said. “It’s something that we always do, and sometimes we have competitions with it. It’s always important, but we haven’t really needed to use it. Just by practicing it all the time, we were able to pull it out whenever we needed it.”
With Sunday’s outcome, Michigan advanced to the NCAA Super Regional, which will be a best-of-three series against No. 15 Tennessee. The series will take place in Ann Arbor and exact dates and times will be announced soon.