In the week leading up to Super Regionals, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins had one message for her team. She wanted them to attack.
To begin the game the Michigan softball team’s batting order was pitted against Georgia’s starting pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson. The right-hander entered the contest with a 1.95 earned-run average and an SEC-best 262 strikeouts. She had the pitches, and the numbers, to give the Wolverines a challenge.
But the Wolverines managed to score 10 runs and took the first game from the Bulldogs. Hutchins liked what she saw.
“I certainly liked our approach today,” Hutchins said. “Our kids were pretty excited about playing at night. They waited all day and they had a lot of great enthusiasm and we really came out attacking. That Georgia team, they’re a really attacking team, so I liked that we came out and swung first.”
Wilkinson was gone before the end of the first inning. Sophomore Kelly Christner must have taken Hutchins’ message to heart, because she stepped in the batter’s box against Wilkinson without apparent fear or hesitation.
There’s only one drawback about being a pitcher who can deliver top-tier heat from inside the circle. If somebody manages to connect with a pitch, it often spells trouble.
Christner made Wilkinson pay for her hard-throwing ways when she swung on a 1-2 pitch in her first at bat. Christner connected about as squarely as possible, and sent her 21st home run of the year rocketing past the centerfield wall to give Michigan an early 2-0 lead.
Suddenly Wilkinson went from being ahead in the count and in control to pitching from behind, and the Wolverines had the opening they needed.
“It’s great to start with some runs in the first inning like that,” Christner said. “It really kept our energy going for the rest of the game, but I think we came out attacking every pitch.”
Including Christner’s two-run jack, the Wolverines plated four runs in the first inning, immediately putting the Bulldogs on a short leash. Wilkinson allowed three runs walked four batters, including issuing a base on balls to walk in a run that served as the last straw and ended her day after just one-third of an inning pitched.
The Michigan offense took a second frame intermission before putting on another four run performance in the third inning.
It was a repeat showing for the fans at Alumni Field, but they were happy to see it. They responded with thunderous applause when Christner took the stage again to drop in a single into left-center that brought two runners home and capped off the scoring, for the moment. The left fielder finished the day 2-4 at the plate with one run scored and four RBI.
“(after the four run first inning), I said ‘there’s a lot of game left and that team averages just under eight runs a game’,” Hutchins said. “In my mind we just had to keep it going. I thought our kids did a good job through the first few innings.”
Along with Wilkinson’s league strikeout number, Georgia also led the SEC with an overall batting average of .346 in the regular season. On paper it looked like the two power hitting teams could end up in a slugfest to decide who would come out on top. But by the time the Bulldogs started getting the bats around it was simply too late.
After getting one run one the board in the third inning, Georgia third baseman Anna Swafford cranked a two-run home run just beyond the outstretched glove of Lawrence in centerfield. It was the first time an opponent scored runs in consecutive innings against the Wolverines in all of the Postseason.
It was simply too little too late, and as effective as Michigan continues to be at scoring runs, the Bulldogs contributed to their own demise.
Half of the Wolverines’ runs in the first inning were walked in by two different Georgia pitchers, and the Bulldog defense committed four errors on the night that allowed Michigan baserunners to keep rotating around the bases even when they didn’t earn it.
The Wolverines did everything their coach wanted them to, and it led them to a dominant victory. If Friday’s second game is another repeat performance for Carol Hutchins and her team, it will mean a horrifying case of Déjà vu for Georgia and a trip to the World Series for Michigan.