After defeating No. 6 Alabama and No. 7 UCLA 5-0 and 10-4, respectively, the Michigan softball team earned a day off from Women’s College World Series competition.
In those wins were two major offensive catalysts: senior catcher Lauren Sweet and junior right fielder Kelsey Susalla. And it’s no coincidence that the productive pair were both on the 2013 roster for the Wolverines’ appearance in Oklahoma City.
Prior to the team’s departure for the WCWS, Sweet was confident that her second experience at softball’s biggest venue would be different than sophomore year.
“Me and (Romero) we’re talking about it,” Sweet said. “I feel like the last time we went, we didn’t have a chance to take it all in. We were just there and it was a blur.
“I think that I’ve grown as a player and as a leader (since then). When I stepped out there as a sophomore, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is the biggest stage I’ve ever been on.’ I’m not going to be so nervous when I step out there again.”
On Thursday against Alabama, the veteran was true to her word.
In the bottom of the fourth, both Susalla and junior second baseman Sierra Romero singled, and Christner drew a walk. The sequence loaded the bases for the veteran catcher.
And with one swing, Sweet put her money where her mouth was, crushing a grand slam to right field and transforming the dynamic of the game. The four-run shot pushed a then 1-0 pitching duel to a 5-0 Michigan cushion.
The homer was Sweet’s only hit of the game, but as predicted, she shook the nerves and provided the hit that mattered most.
Susalla didn’t fare as well against the Crimson Tide. She was just 1-for-3 with two strikeouts, but responded soundly against the Bruins. The junior went 4-for-4 with three runs batted in and a walk. Yet, Susalla’s stat line wouldn’t do her situational hitting justice.
The Wolverines went down three early, after sophomore right-hander Megan Betsa struggled to hold UCLA at bay. With their ace having an uncharacteristically poor performance, there was apprehension in the air among the Michigan faithful.
But it was Susalla who turned that apprehension into hope and swung the momentum in her squad’s favor. Michigan was battling back from its lowest point, had cut the Bruins lead to two and was threatening with two runners on. Susalla rose to the occasion, crushing a double just out of right fielder Kylee Perez’s reach and send the tying run home.
From that point on, as is typical with this Wolverines squad, the hitting became contagious. Michigan went on to score six runs in three innings, but Susalla was the one who picked her team up when they needed it most.
Though the games and their situations were entirely different, both Sweet and Susalla both stepped to the plate with pressure mounting this weekend. Neither looked like a player caught up in the environment. Neither Wolverine succumbed to that pressure. Rather they thrived in it.
So if there is anything that we’ve learned from the first two games in Oklahoma City, it’s that the upperclassmen aren’t here to just take in the atmosphere of the WCWS.
They’re here to win games.