OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — Alabama right-hander Alexis Osorio hushed the noisy crowd, still stirring after an exciting fourth inning, as she sent pitch after pitch toward senior catcher Lauren Sweet. With two strikes and bases juiced, it was undoubtedly her most important pitch of the ballgame.
After several foul balls, Sweet readied for the eighth pitch of her at-bat. Then, with one swing, it became the most important pitch of the night. The crack of the bat-on-ball contact cut through the heavy wet air.
It was only the fourth inning, but that proved to be all it took.
The ball landed somewhere over the left-field wall; Sweet had mustered enough for a grand slam. The wave Michigan built crashed heavily, overwhelming the Crimson Tide for good as the No. 3 Michigan softball team won its first game of the World Series.
“Playing on the biggest stage here is so awesome, and to (hit a grand slam) here is obviously really cool,” Sweet said. “The World Series is my dream, and I’ve gotten here, and I think it’s awesome that (a grand slam) could happen here.”
Leading up to the Wolverines’ World Series matchup against Alabama, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins warned that runs in this game weren’t going to be as easy to come by as they had been of late.
Sure, their bats have been hot, but the Wolverines were facing an uncommon talent in Osorio, an All-American.
She was right, for a while. It came slowly at first.
Osorio struck out the side in order the second inning. It was an uncomfortable experience for a Michigan team that entered the contest with a .344 collective batting average, .630 slugging percentage and a .463 on base percentage — likening the Crimson Tide right-hander’s feat to a mathematical anomaly.
“It was the first game, and our kids weren’t as one-pitch focused at the plate as I’ve seen them,” Hutchins said. “But (Osorio) is a good pitcher, and this is the World Series, so it’s going to be tough, all pitching is going to be tough.”
Sophomore right fielder Kelly Christner hit her 21st home run of the season in the first inning, and it stood for several innings as the only score.
After the homer, Osorio regained control. She took down Michigan’s batters again in the third — no problem for the second team All-American.
But one thing was different. In the second inning, Michigan batters went down by strikes, two swinging and one looking. In the third, it was a different story. A ground out, foul-out and pop fly. Osorio was still a step ahead, but the Wolverines were honed in on her timing and delivery.
“Really it was just one inning at a time, and that’s the way we play softball,” Hutchins said. “It’s, I think, why we’ve done what we’ve done all year. We told our kids tonight just come out and do what we do and so our kids gave us their best effort and that’s all we ever ask.”
Michigan was swinging, looking for a way to claw past Alabama’s pitching and put more runs on the board. It was a tall order. Michigan attacked early in the pitch count, but despite their best efforts, Osorio just wasn’t giving up hits.
Then, in the middle of the fourth inning, catcher Lauren Connell and freshman first baseman Tera Blanco stepped out for their typical in-game ritual. Every game at Alumni Field this season the pair has stepped out in the middle of the fourth inning to lead fans in the wave.
The stands at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium were bigger and fuller than the ones in Ann Arbor, and when Connell and Blanco stepped out the fans complied, sweeping their arms in the air, Blanco and Connell had taken a neutral field and made it Michigan’s.
The wave broke the silence of what had been a pitcher’s duel between too stellar aces.
From there it started to build.
Junior second baseman Sierra Romero was robbed from a first inning single by a stellar reaching catch by Alabama shortstop Danae Hays. But there was no such play in the bottom of the fourth inning when Romero singled up the middle for the Wolverines’ just second hit of the day.
Then for the first time, Osorio blinked. She walked Christner and gave up another single to right fielder junior Kelsey Susalla to load the bases. The right-hander was drowning in baserunners. The stands were louder than they had been, making it seem like something was sure to happen this time. But the momentum the Wolverines build was intangible, good for nothing.
Until Sweet made it real with one good swing and led Michigan to its first World Series win.