If anyone thought that just because Georgia had been beaten soundly the day before that it would quietly accept defeat in Friday’s second game of the Super Regional, they were mistaken.
“That Georgia team,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “They are fighters, they are scrappy. That’s a tough team to play and a tough team to beat.”
The Michigan softball team had to battle back from an early deficit to survive the Bulldog’s best efforts, but clinched the the victory 7 – 6, and booked itself a trip to the Women’s College World Series.
“My kids were fantastic. They’ve been fantastic all year,” Hutchins said. “I’m really proud of them. I said, ‘don’t be proud because you won. be proud of what you’ve worked so hard to accomplish.’”
Despite the season-ending loss, Georgia started the game by reminding everyone that they deserved to be in the matchup against the Wolverines.
Just like Georgia right-hander Chelsea Wilkinson the night before, sophomore right-hander Megan Betsa was overwhelmed by early hitting, and her day was done before the first inning was over.
Betsa started the game with a strikeout and a hit batter, Bulldog third baseman Alex Hugo recorded the quietest home run that had been hit in Alumni Field all season. As the first two runs of the ballgame flashed onto the scoreboard, the only noise came from the Georgia bench, and a small corps of their loyal fans.
In total, Betsa allowed two hits in two thirds of an inning pitched. Both of them were homers. Georgia first baseman Tina Iosefa put the Bulldogs up 3-0 with the second long ball of the inning, and that was the end for Betsa. At least for the time being.
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins sent out senior left-hander Haylie Wagner to take over in the circle. All eyes were on her to give Michigan some time before the game got out of reach.
It didn’t take long thanks to Kelsey Susalla. The junior right fielder put Michigan on the board with a solo shot of her own in the second inning. The infectious bats of the Wolverines had been given a spark, and finally the fans donning maize and blue had something to cheer about.
A third inning RBI single hit past first base by junior second baseman Sierra Romero scored another run for Michigan, and a comeback was in the works. With only one out, junior centerfielder Sierra Lawrence, the best Michigan baserunner and the tying run, was standing on third.
Sophomore left fielder Kelly Christner smacked a 0-1 pitch into right field, where Georgia outfielder Sydni Emmanuel made a spectacular diving grab, but couldn’t get to her feet to make the throw in time.
Lawrence tagged up and scored before any throw at all, and the Wolverines breathed a collective sigh of relief. Everything went wrong in the first, but the game was tied at three.
Meanwhile, Wagner had been holding Georgia scoreless. The Wolverine defense held up on its end, fielding ground balls and catching Bulldog centerfielder Niaja Griffin on a steal attempt to end the third inning.
When Wagner entered the game, Hutchins substituted out freshman designated player Aidan Falk — one of the team’s hottest hitters as of late — and allowed Wagner to hit as well as pitch. From inside the circle she was holding off the Bulldogs, and in the fourth inning she put Michigan back on top with a solo home run.
Susalla was 3-for-3 at the plate on the day, and insured Michigan’s lead with a few additional runs. She knocked in an RBI double in the fifth inning, eventually coming around to score herself.
“The coaches were drilling us to ‘see the back of the ball hit the back of the ball,” Susalla said. “So I was just looking for something low in the zone and looking to put a good swing on the ball.”
She found one. And it was a good thing, because the Bulldogs finally found their offense again after four scoreless innings.
After scoring one run to cut Michigan’s lead to 6-4, another Bulldog would have scored were it not for senior Catcher Lauren Sweet tagging out a baserunner at home plate on a fielder’s choice. Then, Wagner struck out designated player Kaylee Puailoa to end the threat in the sixth.
Georgia, after starting the game so full of vigor, was down to its last hope. After Wagner struck out Hugo – the power slugger that started it all for the Bulldogs – Michigan was on victory’s doorstep.
But remember, Georgia deserved to be here too. The crowd was still roaring for Wagner when, without warning, senior third baseman Anna Swafford belted a two-run shot past the confines of the centerfield wall.
Wagner went out after seven hits and three runs through six innings pitched. Betsa came back in with the hopes to earn a complete inning on the day in a fashion opposite to how she started.
“When i came out i just kind of shook it off because three runs isn’t anything for this team,” Betsa said. “(But the coaches) told me I had the opportunity to come back in. I needed to get my head right, and that’s where I was the whole game.”
In the seventh pitch at bat, Griffin popped up. The ball arced through the air, and came down inside the glove of Romero. After a day full of drama, Michigan had finished the job. With the final catch Romero ensured for her team that the dream of making it to the Women’s College World Series was now indeed a reality.
Alumni Field roared louder than ever, and the Wolverines have booked their ticket to Oklahoma City.