EAST LANSING – Michigan has relied on its defense all season to win games. So when the defense was given the opportunity to win a second straight Big Ten regular season title on the final day of the season, it answered the challenge.
Yesterday against Michigan State, the Wolverines were clinging onto a 1-0 lead against the Spartans’ ace Becky Gray, who – for the second straight game – was watching her solid performance get wasted with no run support.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, after Michigan pitcher Nicole Motycka allowed one single and a walk, the Wolverines sent in Saturday’s winner Marissa Young to close out the victory. Instead, Young walked Michigan State’s Brittney Green on four straight pitches. This brought up the Spartans’ clean-up hitter Natalie Furrow with just one out.
Furrow went on to drill what appeared to be at least a two-run line drive for Michigan State. But, as it has been all season, the defense came up with a game-changing play. Center fielder Meghan Doe sprinted towards the gap in left field and came up with a web-gem, robbing Furrow with a diving catch.
“I just knew I couldn’t let it touch the ground,” Doe said. “That’s all that was going through my head. And I jumped up as fast as I could because I was afraid (Michigan State’s Sandy Lewis) was going to tag (from third base and score).”
It was that quick reaction after the amazing catch that preserved the 1-0 lead.
“It wasn’t just the catch,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “The catch was big, but what was really big was getting up quick and getting the ball to (shortstop Jessica) Merchant. That’s what was headsup because they can still tag if (Doe’s) lying on the ground. But she got up quick, and she got the ball to Jess. That’s our strongest arm on the team, so as soon as I saw her come up and flip it, I knew we were okay.”
Doe – who had the only run in yesterday’s game – also caught a long fly ball to deep left-center field to end the sixth. It was the Spartans’ last scoring threat as the Wolverines shut them down in the seventh to win 1-0.
Thanks to the 1-0 victory over Michigan State on Saturday and an Ohio State 1-0 loss to Penn State, Michigan went into East Lansing yesterday in sole possession of the Big Ten lead.
The Wolverines used an RBI single by Marissa Young – who had the only run in Saturday’s game with a homerun in the fifth inning – to give Michigan (15-3 Big Ten, 43-9 overall) the conference title and home-field advantage in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend.
And although the Spartans, who are 4-15 in the conference (24-35 overall) did not seem like equal opponents on paper, the rivalry, Gray’s pitching and the pressure of winning a conference title were enough to keep the game close.
“It’s really hard to win championships, and it’s really hard to hit the ball the way we’re capable of,” Hutchins said. “Our team wanted this bad, and I tried everything I could think of to loosen them up today.”