Florida right-hander Lauren Haeger was on second base. The Gators were down one and had just executed a sacrifice bunt to perfection, placing a runner in scoring position for their first time in the game. Designated player Bailey Castro stepped to the plate and laced a hard grounder towards the gap.
Michigan was about to find itself in a tie ballgame.
But sophomore shortstop Abby Ramirez launched herself at full extension, corralling the ball and saving it from entering the void beyond second base. The defensive gem held Haeger at third base, and senior left-hander Haylie Wagner recovered to strike out catcher Aubree Munro — holding Florida scoreless.
In both Game One and Two of the Women’s College World Series, the respective victor won by a single run.
The Wolverines lost the first, but won the second. And there was one thing that made the difference between the contrasting results: Michigan’s defense.
“We didn’t get many runs, but you only have to get one more than the other team,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “When it’s a 1-0 game against Florida, we have to play outstanding defense.”
Added Wagner: “(Florida) is a really tough lineup. They came out swinging and I knew it was going to be tough. I trust and believe in (my defense) no matter what. I’m a contact pitcher, and that’s true. And I know that if I just make them put it in play that my defense is going to have my back the entire time.”
In Game One, the Wolverines committed two errors, but with such a small margin for error, those mistakes made a world of a difference.
Compared to her stellar defensive performance in Game Two, Ramirez looked like a different player on Monday night, under-throwing first baseman Tera Blanco in the first that turned Haeger’s home run into a two-run shot when it should have been a solo blast.
That difference could have proved vital given that Michigan only lost by one.
Yet in Game Two, Michigan didn’t do the Gators any favors, putting on a flawless display of defense. In addition to her diving snag in the gap, Ramirez turned a momentum swinging 6-3 double play in the top of the fifth inning.
With a runner on first, right fielder Justine McLean crushed a line drive to shortstop. Off the bat, it looked like Florida would at least put runners on first and second with no outs and the top of the order looming. But Ramirez read the ball perfectly and made an overhead snag before catching the Florida baserunner half way to second base.
She calmly delivered the ball to Blanco at first and gave Wagner a no-runner-on, two-out situation to work with — something much less daunting than what could have been.
The second matchup ended 1-0 in favor of the Wolverines, and though Wagner was exceptional, her defense deserved massive credit as well. Of the 21 outs recorded, 16 were either ground balls or pop flies that Ramirez and her defensive comrades had to handle.
“You could talk about Abby’s defense all year,” Hutchins said. “She’s done an outstanding job at shortstop. She’s just made good plays for us, and Haylie’s a contact pitcher so you need to have a good middle infield behind her. She certainly is a great one.”
The Wolverines were flashing their gloves Tuesday night, and Ramirez was leading the game-saving defensive effort.
They entered the game with the Gators one game ahead and their backs against the wall.
Michigan has closed the gap, and it has seven innings to prove itself worthy of a National Championship.