LOUISVILLE, Kent. — And you thought Jordan Taylor was dominant.
Last year, Taylor set the Michigan softball program record for wins and career strikeouts and was named to the NFCA All-American second team. As a freshman, she set the rookie record for most wins (31) and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. And now, Taylor is a member of the US softball national team.
But the Wolverines may just have found a candidate to replace the former star.
Enter Haylie Wagner, the freshman ace for the Michigan softball team.
Wagner, also named Big Ten Freshman (and Pitcher) of the Year this season, ended the Big Ten season as the top pitcher in the conference in ERA and wins, and looked to lead the Wolverines to a Regional victory.
She led them to three.
The Orange, Calif. Native started in the circle in Michigan’s Regional opener against Kentucky on Friday afternoon and put up stellar numbers. Despite surrendering the lead in the top of the seventh — the Wolverines would come back and hit a walk-off double to win the game — Wagner gave up just one earned run and recorded four strikeouts in seven innings en route to her 30th win of the season. And things just got better from there.
Wagner started again on Saturday against No. 9 Louisville, who she struggled against in the March 10 matchup when she was tagged with the loss. But this time, she recorded the win and tied Taylor with the most wins as a freshman with 31. Wagner again went the distance in the circle, giving up three hits and one earned run, and put Michigan in a good position for a trip to the NCAA Super Regional.
Then she went for win number 32. Against the Cardinals on Sunday for a trip to the Super Regional on the line, Wagner recorded another dominating performance in the circle, completing her third game in three days, shutting out Louisville while giving up six hits.
After Saturday’s game, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins was unsure whether or not she’d start Wagner in Sunday’s matchup, but said she would check with Wagner to see if Wagner would be available for the third game of the weekend. The freshman lefty had already pitched 15 innings against two great offensive teams, and Hutchins didn’t want to risk overuse of the arm.
But that’s not unusual for Wagner.
“In high school I was the only pitcher and I pitched basically every game,” Wagner said after the May 12 win against Purdue. “But coming here it’s just been great, (and) if I have to pitch, I pitch.”
So after Sunday’s win, Wagner wasn’t concerned about the tiredness of her arm.
“(It) feels great,” she said. “I could throw for another game right now. It feels fantastic, (and) I’m going to take care of it as the days go on.”
Michigan plays Alabama in Tuscaloosa this weekend in the NCAA Super Regional with a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series on the line. The Crimson Tide are the No. 2 team in the country and have one of the nation’s most potent offenses. The Wolverines need to shut down Alabama’s offense to secure a 10th berth to the WCWS.
And as for extending her record to 33 wins?
“If it happens, it happens,” Wagner said. “I’m going to play my one-pitch softball and that’s my mindset right now.”
So look for Wagner to start in the circle. Again.