Bottom of the seventh inning. Two out. Nobody on. No score.

With its season on the line, Oregon State’s Vanessa Iapala
was at the plate staring at Michigan pitcher Jennie Ritter.

Iapala, Oregon State’s best hitter, was long overdue for
some offense, hitting just 1-for-14 in the Regional tournament at
the time.

Ritter had thrown a near-perfect game up to that point, giving
up just one hit through six and two-thirds innings.

A win for the Wolverines would send them to the College World
Series. A loss for the Beavers would end their season.

Then a Ritter curveball met Iapala’s desperate bat.

“(Ritter) threw a fat one down the middle, inside,”
said Iapala about her game-ending home run. “All I have to
say is better late than never. I’ve been in kind of a
slump.”

Kind of?

Iapala had just two hits in her last 29 at-bats, despite having
a team-high batting average of .338 going into the game.

“(The pitch) was probably more down the middle than I had
hoped it to be,” Ritter said. “It was a mistake that I
made that they took advantage of.”

Even Iapala was surprised at her towering walk-off home run.

“I had trouble seeing (the pitch),” Iapala said.
“I knew that (Ritter) was going to try to get ahead (of the
count), and I knew I was going to swing at the first pitch, so it
kind of worked out.”

Before surrendering the winning home run, Ritter had one of her
best outings of the season.

“Outstanding,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins
about Ritter’s performance. “It was the best
she’s thrown.”

The Wolverines kept the game close, struggling against Oregon
State’s Monica Hoffman — one of the tournament’s
best pitchers. Ritter and Hoffman struck out a combined 16 batters
in the game.

“Both pitchers were throwing phenomenal,” Oregon
State coach Kirk Walker said. “It was definitely a
pitcher’s duel going on. When that’s happening, you
kind of expect that it’s going to be one big swing. It just
happened to be on our side, so it was a good thing for
us.”

Scoring just four runs in their past three games, the Wolverines
relied on the arm of Ritter to keep them in contention. She earned
a complete-game victory against Canisius on Thursday night, struck
out the last three Notre Dame batters in a 1-0 win on Saturday
afternoon and pitched 4.2 strong innings of relief in a 3-2 win
over Oregon State later that evening.

Whew.

“Every inning I just went in there and tried to get
outs,” said Ritter of her overall performance in the
tournament. “(Hutchins) always tells me that I can’t
score runs for my team. I don’t hit. So I did the best I
could for defense and let the offense pull through.”

Ritter had been so good in the double-elimination tournament
that Hutchins decided to stick with the sophomore for
Michigan’s title game against the Beavers, which began late
yesterday. Hutchins made her decision — and stuck with it
— during the middle of yesterday’s dramatic 1-0 loss to
Oregon State.

In the first inning of the second game against the Beavers,
Ritter gave up a solo home run to Kelly Petersen and a single to
Iapala before the contest was called because of rain.

Ritter will be on the mound again for the Wolverines today,
completing yesterday’s title game.

“I don’t think that even just because we’ve
played the first half of our inning and we’re up a run that
we have the edge or advantage,” Walker said. “I think
we’re pretty much on equal footing right now. I think that
the tournament is going to be decided (today), not based on what
happened (yesterday).”

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