Lately the Michigan softball team has been manufacturing the runs they need – even in tough spots.
Junior second baseman Sierra Romero was 0-for-1 at the plate with a fielding error, and her team was trailing LSU, 1-0, in the bottom of the third inning. In fact, through two complete games at the World Series, Romero hadn’t batted in any runs for the Michigan softball team, often getting the kid-glove treatment from opposing pitching.
And then she ringed a home run off the left-field foul pole to put the Michigan softball team back on equal footing with the Tigers.
After LSU responded by plating two runs and developing a 3-1 lead, sophomore third baseman Lindsay Montemarano ignited a Michigan rally with a double to left-centerfield. Several Wolverine hits followed, Montemarono and freshman pinch-runner Nicky Wald scored to tie things up again.
Eventually Michigan got its win. But at first it had no rhythm and no edge. A World Series full of electric plays and home runs had turned into a single game that looked more like a chess match between two grand masters.
“We just do what we do, whether we’re ahead or behind, we just keep playing in our moment,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “It doesn’t matter who is talented and it doesn’t matter who is ranked. It only matters who has heart and who has soul. And we’ve had it all year, and we showed it again today.”
Michigan and LSU remained deadlocked at three runs apiece for an inning and a half that seemed to drag on for hours. After the initial offensive surges of the Tigers, and the pair of response innings from the Wolverines, neither team could get anything going despite its best efforts.
Michigan leads the nation in home runs, and broke its own program record for runs scored throughout the season. But against the Tigers runs were hard to come by. It was the type of well executed and well coached game for both sides that folks who aren’t fans of softball and baseball would complain about for being too boring.
Perhaps that was true for a while, but when the runs took too long to find, Michigan turned on the small ball machine. The game was waning towards its final frames when the Wolverines seemed to say “If we can’t find the runs, let’s make them ourselves.” Because tough runs are all a part of the World series experience.
“We’re in the World Series,” Hutchins said. “Runs are hard to get. We’re facing great pitching. They have the deepest staff. … So again we don’t care if we’re behind or we’re ahead, we just focus on what we’re doing at the moment. The game doesn’t know if we’re behind or ahead. The game just knows if you hit the ball hard.”
Maybe it was because it wasn’t a night game like Michigan’s two previous WCWS wins. Maybe the afternoon Oklahoma sunshine cast everything in a calming warm light. Regardless, Montemarano stepped back into the batters’ box in the bottom of the sixth inning, and it seemed surreal to consider that if the Wolverines managed to score one run, they would only be three outs away from the championship.
With one out, sophomore shortstop Abby Ramirez singled to center field to fill the bases. After struggling to runners on the base paths the entire game, Michigan was finding a way to do it in the bottom of the sixth. Ramirez’s single filled the bases, but nothing was guaranteed.
Junior centerfielder Sierra Lawrence’s normal production at the plate had been stunted by the heightened competition of the World Series, just like Romero, and just like Michigan against LSU. She got one good at bat against the Tigers – a double – the only one she’ll remember of the game, and the only one that mattered.
Two Wolverines scored, they had the lead. Finally, just when it mattered most they figured out how to score the runs they needed and Romero was having fun. With the speedy Lawrence at third base, Romero goaded LSU second baseman Sydney Bourg into a rundown between the three players.
Caught up in the confusion of an attempted double steal, Bourg wasn’t sure where to go to try and get the third out. In the end, Romero weaved past the second baseman and Lawrence crossed the plate at home. Romero had successfully constructed another run out of nothing.
With a newly-built lead, senior left-hander Haylie Wagner pinned down the last three outs of the ballgame. Following a long afternoon of closely fought baseball, Michigan didn’t end up waiting to come across the runs they needed.
With some luck, and a little bit ingenuity on the base paths, the Wolverines secured a trip to the championship series.