Ann Arbor – The Michigan softball team looked formidable in its second NCAA tournament game, pummeling California with four home runs, but coach Carol Hutchins said there is little room for celebration.
Michigan, with three home runs in the fourth inning, including a pair of two-run shots, scored five runs to build an insurmountable lead. The third-ranked Wolverines defeated California 9-1 on Saturday at Alumni Field in their second game of the tournament. It was the second run-rule victory for Michigan, following Friday's win over Oakland, also 9-1.
"I told them to celebrate in the locker room, as they should," said Hutchins, who led Michigan to a national championship in 2005. "(We're) done celebrating. This tournament is not over. Stay on the task. Stay on the course."
The Wolverines are riding a 21-game winning streak and will play Pittsburgh Sunday at 3:30 p.m. If the Wolverines lose the 3:30 game Sunday they will get another crack at the regional title at 6 p.m., also against Pittsburgh, in the double-elimination format.
The winner advances to the Super Regionals next weekend.
Lauren Sweet's two-run double in the bottom of the sixth sealed the victory over Cal. Michigan had 10 hits.
But it was the Wolverines' explosive fourth inning that proved defining. Freshman Aidan Falk, who was 3-for-3 and had two RBI, started the booming fourth with a two-run home run to left that scored Lindsay Montemarano. The feisty Montemarano had stretched a double out of a blooper down the third-base line. That gave U-M a 4-1 lead.
Falk had been 0-2 in the count and at 1-2 hit the homer after some straightforward encouragement from her coach.
"She said, 'Make contact,'" Falk said. "That's the only thing I had in my head, was make contact."
Then Sierra Lawrence got into the action, expanding the lead to 6-1 with her 14th home run of the season that scored Abby Ramirez. It didn't end there. With two out, Kelly Christner hit a solo home run for a 7-1 lead.
Junior Sierra Romero, recently named espnW's National Player of the Year, homered to center on a 2-2 count in the third inning to give the Wolverines their first lead of the game. It was her 21st home run of the season and tied Michigan's career record of 62. She also set the RBI record with 220.
Megan Betsa, the Wolverines' sophomore starting pitcher in Friday's game, duplicated that performance with 10 strikeouts again. It was here 13th game this season with double-digit strikeouts. Cal had three hits.
Betsa was tested in the fourth and fought through a bases-loaded situation, getting Taurie Pogue to fly out to short left field on the first pitch. Ramirez made the inning-ending catch.
Cal took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a home run by Danielle Henderson. Betsa, who was in a similar situation Friday night after allowing a home run, said she settled down after that and focused on getting ahead in the count.
"I felt I was throwing a lot of balls, getting behind the count a lot," she said.
With two outs in second, Michigan tied the game when freshman Tera Blanco's single up the middle scored Montemarano. Montemarano was the Wolverines' first base runner of the game, reaching on a walk. She had advanced to third on a single by Falk.
Hutchins said she was pleased the Wolverines were able to make early adjustments after a slow hitting start. And now, as they prepare for Sunday after that all-so-brief celebration, she said Michigan's only focus is Michigan.
"I worry about my team and what we do," Hutchins said. "We're just going to play our game and worry about us."
Ann Arbor Regional
Where: Alumni Field, Ann Arbor
Format: Double elimination
Tickets: $12 chairback, $10 reserved bleacher, $8 general admission outfield bleacher.
Game 1: California 11, Pittsburgh 3
Game 2: Michigan 9, Oakland 1
Game 3: Michigan 9, California 1
Game 4: Pittsburgh 6, Oakland 3, Oakland eliminated
Game 5: Pittsburgh 6, California 3, California eliminated
Game 6: Michigan vs. Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 7 (if necessary): Michigan vs. Pittsburgh, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)