OKLAHOMA CITY — Sometimes the magic runs out too early.
That is exactly what happened to the Michigan softball team when they saw their season fall by the wayside Saturday against Georgia.
With the season over, the only question remaining is what went wrong?
You could look at the pitching — the rock of the Wolverines’ performance all year which gave up seven runs in the final game. But the only thing coach Carol Hutchins wanted her pitchers to do was to give the team a chance to win. In both losses at the World Series, the Wolverines were close and in a position to tie the game late.
So what about the offense?
The Michigan bats put up 5.34 runs per game this season. Good enough for 24th in the country. All year, the Wolverines had come up with enough to win the game, including five runs in their third round loss Saturday.
Perhaps the coaching, then?
It’s tough to fault a coach who has been to nine Women’s College World Series in fourteen years and has never seen a losing season in her 25 seasons at the helm — even if her decision to take out sophomore pitcher Jordan Taylor in favor of junior Nikki Nemitz resulted in quick Bulldog runs.
The Wolverines just didn’t have enough.
This was a team that had five losses before the month of March — the program’s worst start in six years. It lacked senior leadership with only one senior in the starting lineup. The Wolverines were swept by Northwestern for the first time in nine years. And as of late March, they were out of the Big Ten race.
And then it happened. They came back to Ann Arbor.
During their home stretch, they found a little magic left over from 2005. They went 19-0 at home to spark a 21-game win streak — including 17 straight conference wins — en route to the program’s 12th Big Ten title.
Not bad for a team that most considered to be done for in March.
They earned the right to host their eighth straight regional and continued on to the Super Regional, winning one game in come-from-behind fashion, something they did 10 times in their 26 wins before the Women’s College World Series.
And in the opening game of the World Series, Michigan picked up where it left off. The leadership it needed came to them in the form of senior Teddi Ewing, a four-year starter at shortstop, who came to play when the team needed her most.
After struggling at the plate all year with just a .195 batting average, Ewing went 3-for-3 and drove in two runs in the Wolverines 6-1 victory over Alabama.
But then, they ran into Stacey Nelson.
The Florida pitcher held Michigan to one hit, bringing any offensive efforts to a halt as the Gators squeaked out a 1-0 victory in the second round. The loss put Michigan on the brink of elimination.
21 hours later, the hot bats were back. The offense put up three runs in the first inning against Georgia and everything seemed to be back in order.
And then an unlikely struggle downed the Wolverines. Their pitching, ranked third in the country in terms of ERA, gave up more runs than they had all year.
With a final score of 7-5, it was all over. After the game, Hutchins called the team one of the best she has ever coached. A coach with over 1,000 wins in 25 seasons — who coached the same team that looked hopeless in late March — tipped her hat.
In the end, Michigan didn’t have enough, but it was a lot more than everybody thought.