OKLAHOMA CITY — A great deal has changed since the Michigan softball team won its Super Regionals last weekend in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines have traveled over 1,000 miles, played on the road for just the second time in 15 games and, for the first time since early in the season, they were the underdogs.
The one consistent thing has been the outcome.
After two blowout wins in the Super Regionals, the fifth-seeded Wolverines beat No. 4 Alabama 6-1, at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in the first game of the program’s ninth Women’s College World Series appearance.
“I’m very impressed, more than any other aspect of our game, with our composure,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “This is everybody is this program’s first time here; I felt we were very composed.”
The Wolverines’ pitching paced that composure and kept the team consistent. Junior Nikki Nemitz struck out five while allowing only three hits to the seventh-ranked offense in the country.
“I thought (pitching coach Jennifer Brundage) called a great game,” Nemitz said. “We kept going both corners and off-speed and up and it just kept them guessing.”
Despite the performance by Nemitz, a first-team All-American honoree, Hutchins hasn’t committed to a starting pitcher for the Michigan’s World Series game Friday night.
Hutchins has split starts between Nemitz and sophomore Jordan Taylor evenly all year, and with Taylor coming off of six consecutive games of double-digit strikeouts, Hutchins is not ready to count her out of the tournament completely.
Since Super Regional play, Michigan’s bats have been hot, mostly due to an increased production from the bottom of the order. Senior Teddi Ewing capitalized on her lone shot at a National Championship, batting 3-for-3 while grabbing two RBI. In her last two games, Ewing has brought her batting average above the .200 mark for the first time all season.
“I just honestly tried to play one pitch softball and take pressure off of myself,” Ewing said. “Whatever happens happens, I just tried to swing at strikes. If it wasn’t a good pitch and it was close I just tried to spin it off somehow … just go for it.
“You have nothing to lose right now.”
Also helping Ewing’s cause at the bottom of the order was freshman second baseman Stephanie Kirkpatrick who was dropped to the eighth spot after limited production in her stint at leadoff. Kirkpatrick responded with two hits and a run against the Tide to aid the Wolverines’ offensive efforts
Combined, Kirkpatrick and Ewing accounted for five of the Wolverine’s eight hits.
“When the bottom of the order comes through, championships are won,” Hutchins said. “Everybody takes turns at getting it done … It was her (Kirkpatrick’s) turn tonight and hopefully it will give her confidence throughout the rest of the tournament.”
The Wolverines will need the bottom of the order to stay hot as they take on top seed Florida in their next game. The Gators beat Michigan 4-0 in their only meeting this year in February.