It looked like it was over from the beginning. Senior pitcher Jordan Taylor was out-dueled, and the Michigan softball team couldn’t buy a hit.
But the Wolverine hitters came alive late in the game, as Michigan rallied from a seven-run deficit to fall to No. 23 Kentucky, 7-6, in their NCAA Ann Arbor Regional matchup.
After a complete-game shutout against Western Michigan on Friday, Taylor was pulled in favor of sophomore hurler Stephanie Speierman after allowing six hits and seven runs — six earned — in 4.2 innings.
Taylor’s counterpart, Kentucky’s Chanda Bell, was up to the challenge against No. 2 Michigan. Bell cruised through the game for six innings, but was pulled in the seventh inning after allowing a grand slam.
Taylor’s trouble started early. In the second inning, with two runners on and two outs, a slow dribbler got between the legs of senior first baseman Dorian Shaw, allowing the first run of the game to score. The Wildcats got some help there, but they earned their runs the rest of the way.
Michigan had an opportunity to jump right back in the lead when power-hitting third baseman Amanda Chidester stepped to the plate with two runners on, hoping to complete a two-out rally. But Chidester’s at-bat ended with her getting hit in the forearm. The umpires called the play a dead ball and ruled that Chidester had gone around on the swing, giving her a strikeout rather than a free ride to first base.
The umpires’ ruling, according to the non-working chair umpire, was that the initial ruling was a dead ball since Chidester was hit by the pitch. Then a check-swing appeal was asked for by Kentucky and granted. The third-base umpire ruled it a swing, making the pitch a strike.
The call riled up both Michigan coach Carol Hutchins and the Michigan dugout, but it was Kentucky that got the next laugh.
The Wildcats added three runs in the fourth inning and three more in the fifth to push the lead to 7-0. Hutchins replaced Taylor with Speierman, who allowed a single into right field to score the final two runs — they were still credited to Taylor.
Michigan’s bats finally came alive in the sixth inning. Senior designated hitter Marley Powers line drive up the middle scored Chidester for the Wolverines’ first run of the game.
Michigan loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh inning, and Chidester got revenge for the earlier mishap by smashing a line drive off the base of the wall in left-center field wall, scoring junior center fielder Bree Evans.
Then sophomore second baseman Ashley Lane crushed a grand slam over the left-field wall to pull the game within one run at 7-6. But Michigan’s next three batters went down in succession to end the game.
The 7-6 score became a final, propelling Michigan into a tough position in the Regionals.
The Wolverines now sit in the loser’s bracket of the round-robin tournament. They will await the result of Western Michigan and Notre Dame’s tilt this afternoon, then retake the diamond against the winner at 5 p.m.
This evening’s winning team will play Kentucky on Sunday afternoon, and given the double-elimination set-up of the Regional, the Wildcats’ opponent would have to beat them in consecutive meetings on Sunday at Alumni Field.