It couldn’t have been more perfect. It was plenty heartbreaking, but it wasn’t the end.

Jessica Boullion
Alessandra Giampaolo and the rest of her Michigan teammates will now make their way to Knoxville, Tenn. to square off against the Volunteers. The two teams met twice in the College World Series last June. (ANGELA CESERE/Daily)

With the score tied at two in the top of the seventh inning in the regional finals, Michigan had the bases loaded with one out.

Next in the batting order? Senior catcher and homerun leader Becky Marx. But before the crowd could say “grand slam,” Marx popped a fly ball right into the glove of Oklahoma leftfielder Norrelle Dickson.

Still, the opportunity was far from gone with sophomore slugger Samantha Findlay ready to step up to the plate. The first baseman, best known for her clutch home run that won last year’s national championship, had already notched a pair of grand slams this season. But instead of racking up a third, Findlay struck out swinging.

As the dismay from letting this ideal situation slip away hit the crowd at Alumni Field hard, there was one group of people that didn’t let it phase them: the Michigan softball team.

Instead, the Wolverine batters broke out in extra innings with a vengeance.

Junior Alessandra Giampaolo kicked off the eighth with a double to leftfield. Then, junior Grace Leutele followed with her sixth home run of the season, a blast that rode gusty winds right over the rightfield fence.

With a 4-2 score and spirits high, designated player Tiffany Worthy decided the offensive burst wasn’t over quite yet: She slammed a pitch clear over the rightfield bleachers.

Senior pitcher Jennie Ritter sealed the 5-2 win and an NCAA Super Regional berth, retiring three of four Sooner batters in the bottom half of the inning.

“It took all we had to beat them,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “We never got down.”

Perhaps the one player with most reason to get down was Ritter. The All-American ace had to fend off distractions, questionable calls and mind games all weekend.

But Ritter only let her frustrations seep through a few times yesterday, responding with shock to some hotly contested calls.

“My energy gets to me sometimes,” Ritter said. “Umpires aren’t perfect, they don’t always make the right calls. There were a couple of pitches that I thought were strikes that I had thrown.”

Ritter made it obvious she disagreed, but these glimpses of mortality were brief and when crunch time came, Ritter was ready. With Michigan batting first, the team counted on Ritter to keep hard-hitting Oklahoma at bay through the bottom of each inning.

“Jennie Ritter’s been the most consistent performer on our team all year,” Hutchins said. “We rely on Jennie Ritter . she’s all guts and heart. I believe that’s why she won a national championship last year.”

When the Wolverines couldn’t break the scoring stalemate in regulation, Ritter provided three strikeouts in the bottom of the seventh to push for extra innings. She went on to break her own Michigan record for strikeouts in a game, fanning nineteen batters total.

In Friday’s game against Youngstown State, Ritter’s steady strength in the circle and some offensive heroics from Giampaolo helped open the regional tournament with a 4-0 victory.

The same duo kept the shutout streak moving on Saturday in a nine-inning 1-0 clash with Oklahoma. While Ritter held the Wolverines in the game, Giampaolo delivered her second game-winning hit of the postseason to break the chain of zeros that stretched across the scoreboard.

After two hard-fought games against Oklahoma, another battle awaits Michigan in next weekend’s Super Regional in Knoxville, Ten. Ready to avenge last year’s Women’s College World Series elimination is eighth seeded Tennessee and All-American pitcher Monica Abbott. The Wolverines ended the Volunteers’ season en route to the 2005 national championship.

Michigan 5
Oklahoma 2

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