LOUISVILLE, Kent. — With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, junior second baseman Ashley Lane rounded second base and headed for third. The throw from the outfield came in fast to Louisville’s third-baseman. The tag was timed perfectly and placed above Lane’s waste as she slid into third.
Danny Bowman, the home plate umpire, swung both arms.
And then senior third-baseman Stephanie Kirkpatrick was walked after the call to load the bases. Hutchins took out sophomore right-fielder Lyndsay Doyle for sophomore catcher Caitlin Blanchard, and Blanchard was hit by a pitch and Lane jogged home screaming.
The No. 21 Michigan softball team (41-15) won in dramatic fashion on Saturday, defeating Louisville (50-4), 2-1, in eight innings.
But it wasn’t the walk-off that headlined the game.
Lane began the comeback in the eighth inning with a single up the right field gap for her second hit of the game. After a pop out, junior shortstop Amy Knapp hit a bloop single that fell right in front of Louisville right-fielder Kristin Austin. Austin picked up the ball, looked to first and gunned to third, but it wasn’t enough.
“Safe or out, I thought I was safe,” Lane said. “And you know what? It doesn’t matter.”
“That’s a huge win,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We had to hang in there. The problem wasn’t that we gave up the run. The problem was that we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities to get a few more runs early. But we hung in there.”
It was the Wolverines’ second consecutive walk-off win, after Sara Driesenga hit a two-out double in the bottom of the seventh against Kentucky last night.
Michigan held a 1-0 lead up until the seventh inning, but Louisville star Alicja Wolny smacked a double to lead off for the Cardinals. Wolny was taken out for a pinch runner, who advanced to third on a wild pitch by freshman left-hander Haylie Wagner. Louisville then used a sacrifice fly to score the tying run.
Despite giving up the run in the seventh, Wagner allowed just three hits and two walks in a full eight innings of work. After Saturday’s game, Wagner has now pitched 232 innings this season.
This time she finally felt some of the fatigue that comes as a result.
“I’m a little tired, but I feel good,” Wagner said. “I’ll rest up today and do another ice bath, but I’m just going to be ready to go tomorrow. If I’m going to pitch then I’m going to pitch and do whatever it takes to help Michigan win.”
Wagner used a strong defensive showing from Kirkpatrick, who had 10 putouts at third base. It was also Wagner’s 31st win this season, tying former Michigan pitcher Jordan Taylor’s freshman record for wins in a season, which was news to her.
“I didn’t know that, but that’s great,” Wagner said. “I’m just doing what I can out there and if it’s going to break it or whatever it’s going to do then I’m proud of myself.”
Though the Wolverines picked up the win, their offense struggled on Saturday facing a Louisville pitching staff ranked fourth in the nation.
Cardinal starting pitcher Caralisa Connell held the Wolverines to four hits and allowed just four walks in six innings.
“I didn’t think (her pitching) was too overpowering, I think our timing was just a little off,” Lane said. “I think given a second round we can do a lot better.”
Michigan scored its first run in the second inning when Kirkpatrick reached on an error. Doyle followed with a walk before senior center-fielder Bree Evans reached on a fielder’s choice. The ball was hit at Louisville’s second baseman, who could not decide what to do with it, and the bases were loaded. A sacrifice fly by sophomore left-fielder Nicole Sappingfield scored Kirkpatrick to put the Wolverines up, 1-0.
Michigan lost to the Cardinals earlier in the year, 2-1, but they handed Louisville its fourth loss of the season and its first loss at home.
Louisville beat Kentucky late Saturday night, 3-2, and will face Michigan Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
“We love playing ball,” said Louisville coach Sandy Pearsall. “What can be better than playing more games? This team has it in them. I know they can do this.”
Despite reaching the finals Hutchins won’t get too excited about her ballclub’s victories. She still feels that her team is the underdog in this regional.
“(Winning) doesn’t guarantee a thing,” Hutchins said. “There’s a lot of softball left to play.”
Correction Appended: A previous version of this article misidentified the name and position of the home plate umpire.