Coming into the regional final on Sunday, North Carolina’s softball team was looking for back-to-back wins to secure an upset over the heavily-favored Wolverines. Seven innings later, its glass slipper was shattered as Michigan shut down the Tar Heels, 6-0.
The power pitching duo of junior Jennie Ritter and sophomore Lorilyn Wilson, along with two three-run innings, gave Michigan (58-4) its second consecutive regional championship.
“We’ve got two more games before we get (to the College World Series),” Ritter said. “We’re ready to do it, and we want to do it.”
Ritter (31-1) retired the first 13 batters of the game and sent 15 of the 16 batters she faced back to the dugout — striking out 10. In the bottom of the fifth, shortstop Anna Evans doubled hard to left field to end Ritter’s chance at a perfect game.
“(Ritter)’s just been outstanding all year,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “I’m so proud of Jennie Ritter. She’s really getting it done for us and she’s one of the major reasons we’re where we’re at.”
While the end of Ritter’s no-hitter attempt may have been anti-climatic, any hopes of a North Carolina upset were gone when freshman Samantha Findlay crossed home plate in the top of the fifth inning. With her team already ahead 3-0, Findlay came to the plate with freshman Allesandra Giampaolo and senior Jessica Merchant on base. Sitting on a 1-0 count, Findlay connected on an inside pitch from Tar Heel pitcher Crystal Cox and sent it over the left field wall.
“We’ve just been working on seeing the ball, and I just tried to get a good pitch and take a good hack at it,” Findlay said. “I don’t look for home runs — I just try and hit the ball hard.”
The first of the Wolverines’ runs came across the plate in the second inning. Junior Becky Marx came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. She singled into right field, scoring Findlay from third base. An error by rightfielder Jessica Young allowed senior Nicole Motycka to score as well. Senior Tiffany Haas hit a sacrifice fly that scored junior Stephanie Bercaw for the third run of the inning.
The No. 1-ranked Wolverines’ weekend was very reminiscent of their showing in last week’s Big Ten Tournament. Like the previous weekend, Michigan wasted no time, jumping ahead early and then cruising to victories. After an 8-1 victory against Canisius on Friday, Michigan continued its dominance with a 5-0 triumph over Seton Hall. The win against North Carolina in the final game completed the trifecta, giving the Wolverines their second straight regional championship.
Ritter picked up all three victories on the weekend, giving up just six hits in 17 innings of work. Findlay and Merchant both had two home runs during the three-game regional.
Michigan now stands two wins away from its second straight appearance in the College World Series. Its lone obstacle is No. 16 Washington (34-20), who defeated Iowa 2-0 on Sunday to win the Lincoln regional.
“I haven’t really thought about Washington,” Hutchins said. “I was only thinking about North Carolina and Michigan. We’ll do our homework. I know they’re a fine softball team, and they come from a fine softball conference. We’ll have our hands full, and we’ll need to play good softball.”