Leave it to the best softball team on the planet to give No. 6 Michigan its toughest contest this season.
As part of its Bound4Beijing tour, the U.S. national team took the stage at Alumni Field last night and beat the Wolverines 5-1 in front of a sellout crowd of more than 2,500.
“As a little girl playing softball, you want to play for the Olympic team,” sophomore pitcher Nikki Nemtiz said. “Those are the best players and the best hitters in the world.”
And for the past two decades, they have been the absolute best.
The U.S, national team has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the last 20 years. Since its inception as an Olympic sport in 1996, Team USA has won all three gold medals and will be trying for its fourth this August.
Team USA (29-1) stopped by Ann Arbor as part of its 46-city tour to promote the sport before the Olympics. It has slaughtered teams consistently during the tour, including a 23-0 shutout over DePaul on March 26.
But before they could run away with the game, Nemitz and fellow pitcher freshman Jordan Taylor had an answer.
The Wolverine pitching duo put up a strong fight against Team USA’s dominant offense. Nemitz and Taylor traded off innings with Taylor pitching three and Nemitz four.
“The game plan was to go two innings, two innings, and maybe stick with that, but I thought Nikki looked so good out there,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “She’s so effective against their lefties that we let her go for a while.”
When Nemitz came in for Taylor in the third, she looked to have regained the aggressiveness that has been lacking in her pitches the past few games.
“She came in there and she went after it,” Hutchins said. “She hasn’t pitched as well as I would have liked the last week or so, but I was really pleased.”
Team USA registered two home runs and went 6-for-26 against Taylor and Nemitz combined.
“Jordan and I were joking, ‘Alright, we’re not going to worry if they hit us hard, because they’re going to hit anybody hard,’ ” Nemitz said. “I know some pitches I threw that they hit I thought ‘Well that’s a popup in college, but not to them’.”
US national and former Texas pitcher Cat Osterman struck out 11 Wolverines in her six innings pitched. Osterman faced the Wolverines in the 2005 College World Series, the same year that Michigan became the first team east of the Mississippi to win a National Championship.
The Wolverines had trouble getting their bats going against Osterman’s lightning fast pitches. Michigan registered three hits in the game, including an RBI single from sophomore Maggie Viefhaus in the bottom of the fifth.
Jennie Finch pitched the seventh inning for Team USA, setting down Michigan in order.
“This is a historic moment,” Hutchins said. “I told them today before we played, you’ll never play the Olympic team again.
“Don’t leave the field tonight and wish you would have done something differently. And just play the best you can . I think we did that.”