Tallahassee, Fla. — The first four home runs the Michigan softball team surrendered hurt but didn’t kill. The fifth and final one proved an instantaneous fatal blow.
Third-ranked Florida State hit four homers, including three in one inning, in Friday’s game two of the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional, winning 6-0 and forcing a deciding game three.
But a few hours later, it turned out to be a game-deciding swing of the bat that cost the Wolverines their season.
Tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Michigan pitcher Haylie Wagner got the first two outs. But with a runner on and a 1-1 count, Seminoles center fielder Courtney Senas crushed her second home run of the day for a walk-off 4-2 victory.
FSU (55-7) secured the Women’s College World Series berth next week in Oklahoma City, while No. 13 Michigan (47-15) was left to dry tears and wonder what could have been after Thursday night’s 17-3 series-opening thrashing.
“They got it done,” Wolverines head coach Carol Hutchins said. “Their kids did a great job coming back after (Thursday’s) game. It’s a real credit to them because they hung tough.”
FSU ace Lacey Waldrop threw a five-hit complete-game shutout in the first game of the doubleheader. A dropball pitcher, the Atlantic Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year lasted just two innings Thursday night. In 96-degree heat Friday afternoon, Waldrop (38-5) turned around an hour after her shutout and produced another gem, then let her offense pick her up another win.
“Waldrop was fantastic today,” Hutchins said. “She had a little more moxie. She had command of her pitches. (Thursday), we got in her head early, and today, she wasn’t having it.”
FSU’s Celeste Gomez hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning of the early game, and the nation’s leading home run hitter, Maddie O’Brien, had a two-run shot, her 24th. The Seminoles scored two more runs on solo homers by Senas and Victoria East.
“Too many, too many. More than I care for,” said Hutchins, describing how often the long ball has caused losses this year. “But give them credit, when the pitch was there, they smoked it and that was the difference in the game.”
In the second game, Florida State struck first after working out of a defensive jam as Michigan loaded the bases in the top half of the frame. The Wolverines tied things up in the second inning on Lindsay Montemanero’s solo home run, then took the lead in the third on Taylor Hasselbach’s RBI infield hit, but they left three more runners on base.
A crazy play in the fifth inning tied the game for FSU when Senas popped up along the first base line and Wagner (24-5) could not glove the ball in fair territory, poking it towards the wall. Moving on a 3-2 count with two outs, Seminoles second baseman Tiffani Brown alertly raced all the way around from first base to score in a slide.
“It was unfortunate,” Hutchins said. “When we hit the ball well, it didn’t go our way.
“Yesterday, everything went our way. Today, not much went our way. They played some great defense, and that third baseman made some great plays.”
The Wolverines loaded the bases with none out in the top of the seventh. But Waldrop threw three straight changes to Hasselbach to pick up a huge strikeout, before a force at home and a groundout to second ended the threat.
Senas’ crushing blast into the night followed shortly, elating the Seminoles, who will make their first WCWS appearance in 10 years.
"I'm proud of our team," said Michigan senior Lyndsay Doyle, who had three hits on the day. "We fought right to the end. Like Coach Hutch said, it didn't go our way, but I'm going to love this team forever."
Brian Miller is a freelance writer.