Ann Arbor – Haylie Wagner knows better than most how quickly a college career flies by.
Wagner, a left-handed pitcher for the third-ranked Michigan softball team, helped lift the Wolverines to a 7-6 victory over Georgia Friday night, sweeping the NCAA Super Regionals and advancing them to the first berth in the Women's College World Series.
This will be the 11th time under coach Carol Hutchins that the Wolverines have reached the World Series, which begins Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Wagner and Hutchins had a long embrace after the victory in the senior's final home game.
"It means a ton to me," Wagner said after the game. "This is my last time on Alumni Field, and I wouldn't want to go out any other way. Just being out there -- the fans were amazing, just the energy and the atmosphere. We're ready for OKC and we're ready to fight and attack out there."
Wagner relieved starter Megan Betsa in the first inning after Georgia took a 3-0 lead. Wagner pitched well and had six strikeouts before Betsa returned to the game to close it out. Wagner also had a solo go-ahead home run and combined with catcher Lauren Sweet on a play at the plate to stop a Georgia run.
It is never easy for a college athlete to say goodbye to a home crowd, but while Wagner pitched for the last time at Alumni Field, there's still work ahead for the Wolverines.
"It was a lot of emotions that went through me, but I was just so excited and so proud of this team because in the end we fought together, and we played together, and we're a team and we're a family and we did everything together this game," Wagner said. "It took every single one of us. So the emotions are indescribable, and nothing will ever top this."
The Wolverines are 56-6 and are second in the nation in home runs and fourth in team ERA. Wagner, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, is 22-2 and has a 1.82 ERA this season. Betsa is a 30-game winner.
Wagner allowed two earned runs in six innings of relief against Georgia on Friday, but it was her all-around performance in the game that will be her lasting legacy at Alumni Field. She entered the game with just 24 at-bats on the season and a .167 batting average.
She homered over the left-center wall to break a tie, giving the Wolverines a 4-3 lead, and she celebrated as she rounded the bases.
"I used my timing swing," Wagner said. "I don't remember swinging. I just saw the ball and hit it and there it went. It was just a great feeling."
By using Wagner in the batting order, Hutchins allowed the option of bringing Betsa back in to pitch if needed, which is how the game unfolded.
Wagner held the Bulldogs scoreless through four innings until the sixth, when they scored one. But Wagner and Sweet combined to throw out a runner at the plate when Wagner fielded Paige Wilson's dribbler. Sweet tagged Chaycie Goggins.
She later said the team works on swinging bunts every day in practice.
"I saw her out of the corner of my eye she was going home, and I knew I had to get it to Lauren and keep it low, and I knew she was going to do the rest," Wagner said.
The Wolverines have won 25 straight games heading into the World Series. Wagner has been there before with Michigan, in 2013, and said there's plenty to take from the previous experience.
"We have to play with heart," she said. "Each year it's been a little bit of a disappointment at the end, and it's been rough. But you learn every single year, and you have to keep going and keep playing with heart, because you don't know the next time you're going to be able to play or pitch or throw or hit. I just have to tell each of them to have fun, play with heart and enjoy every single moment because it goes by really, really fast."
Women's College World Series
When: Thursday-June 3
Where: ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City
Format: Eight teams make the WCWS. They are split into two four-team brackets in a double-elimination format. The two bracket winners meet in a best-of-three championship round, which takes place June 1-2 and, if necessary, June 3.
2014 winner: Florida
Notable: This is the 11th WCWS appearance for Michigan, all under coach Carol Hutchins. The Wolverines won the national title in 2005. The Wolverines' most recent WCWS appearance was 2013; they were eliminated with losses to Oklahoma and Washington.