A three-year hiatus was long enough for coach Carol Hutchins and the Michigan softball team. Since 2005 when they became the University’s only team national champions since the 2001 field hockey team, the Wolverines have watched each of their seasons end one round too early.
This year, Michigan gets to go back where it belongs.
The fifth-seeded Wolverines beat Baylor 8-1 and 7-1 in the Super Regional, best two-out-of-three series to get back to the Women’s College World Series — their first since the 2005 National Championship season.
“It’s why they come to Michigan,” Hutchins said. “When they come here at some point they realize they’re the ones that get it done. What this group has accomplished here, they did that. Michigan didn’t do it and I didn’t do it, but the kids do it.”
For the past four years, senior shortstop Teddi Ewing has taken her spot on the field with the 2005 National Champions sign bearing down on her. While the faces around her have changed, she was a stalwart for Michigan over the past four years. But she hadn’t broken through the Super Regional barrier.
Ewing’s trip to Oklahoma City this season means that every player who has come through the Michigan softball program since 1992 will have reached at least one College World Series.
Despite having a sub-par year at the plate, hitting .185 on the season, Ewing went 2-for-4 against the Bears (40-22) and scored two runs in her final game at Alumni Field. Both of her hits were the first hits in rallies that scored four runs and then three runs in the following inning.
“We really bought in to playing one-pitch softball and believing in each other and believing in the program,” Ewing said. “It means a lot to get back to Oklahoma City and have a chance to go for it again.”
While game two was highlighted by Ewing’s performance, it was all about sophomore first baseman Dorian Shaw in game one.
Shaw tied a Michigan single-game record when she registered three home runs. With the Wolverines already up 1-0, she took Baylor starter Whitney Canion deep in the second inning. In the fifth, she homered off Brittney Turner, and an inning later it was Shaina Brock who had the honor of giving up the record-tying long ball.
“We see her do it every day in practice,” junior Nikki Nemitz said. “It’s a great energy (boost) seeing the ball go that far in a game and counting, as opposed to in practice. We feed off of that.”
The offense had its ups and downs this year, but its pitching has been consistent and didn’t disappoint in the Super Regionals. Nemitz and sophomore Jordan Taylor combined to give up only eight hits while striking out 21 hitters in their two games.
Taylor struck out 13 in the series-clinching game, making it her sixth consecutive start with double-digit strikeouts.
“Those are two very good pitchers,” Baylor coach Glenn Moore said. “They complement each other very well, two different styles. (Taylor’s) off-speed is devastating, she has a late break on the ball and it’s very hard to stay on it.”
The Wolverines will need their pitchers to outduel the No. 4 seed Alabama in their first game of the WCWS Thursday. The Crimson Tide’s Kelsi Dunne went through both games of the Super Regional without having a single hit registered against her.
“I don’t concern myself a whole lot with who we’re playing because our focus is on us,” Hutchins said. “Our strength is us, and we focus on us.”