Michigan powers over Alabama in Series opener
Oklahoma City — Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins has a simple approach that her players have embraced, and while playing "pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning" sounds cliché, it's what the Wolverines have done so well this season.
The nation's top home-run team hit two more, including a grand slam from Lauren Sweet, and sophomore pitcher Megan Betsa got her 31st victory of the season as Michigan walloped Alabama, 5-0, in the first round of the College World Series Thursday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. The game was delayed an hour because of lightning.
Michigan, ranked third nationally and now 57-7, plays UCLA at 9:30 p.m. Friday Eastern time.
"We came out and played our kind of softball and stayed in our moment," Hutchins said. "It was just one inning at a time, and that's the way we play softball. We just told the kids to come out and do what we do."
Betsa had six strikeouts. She gave up four hits in the shutout, and the Crimson Tide players said after the game they could never adjust to her pitching.
"She was hitting her spots all night," said Alabama's best hitter, center fielder Haylie McCleney said. "Her change-up was one of the most effective that I've seen all year. She was getting us to swing in the dirt, she was getting us to swing at pitches over our head. We didn't do a good job of adjusting at all. She pitched one heck of a game, one of the best I've seen her pitch all season. It was tough."
Michigan, which has won 26 straight games, is making its 11th World Series trip and second in three seasons, all under Hutchins, now in her 31st season.
Perhaps the Wolverines, who have made it absolutely clear they believe they have what it takes to win the national championship, gained added inspiration for their opener from Michigan's 2005 national championship team.
Players from that team wrote letters to the current players wearing corresponding uniform numbers, and they were presented before the game and then posted in the Michigan dugout. The current Wolverines said they were moved by the gesture initiated and organized by Angie Danis, a member of the 2005 national championship team.
"It was definitely something special," Betsa said. "I received my letter from Jenny Ritter, who obviously was a pitcher, All-American here. She just had some great words of wisdom. 'Let go of the good to be great' was something I really liked and something I focused on tonight, just letting go what I've already done and focus on where I am now."
Michigan took the lead early against 2012 national champion Alabama, making its fourth trip in five years to the World Series, when big-hitting Kelly Christner gave the Wolverines their 116th home run of the season. Christner, on an 0-2 pitch with two outs, hit a solo home run to right field, giving Michigan a 1-0 lead.
Christner admitted she fought through some nerves at the start of the game before settling down.
"I went out there and realized it's just like any other game we played the entire year," Christner said. "I focused on seeing the ball."
Christner and Sierra Romero, one of three finalists for national Player of the Year, have 21 home runs each, marking the third time the program has had two, 20-plus home run hitters.
But the big boost for Michigan came in the fourth inning when Sweet, on a 3-2 pitch, hit a grand slam off freshman pitcher Alexis Osorio. Osorio, who entered the game with a 21-8 record and a 1.64 ERA, struggled pitching to Sweet, who stayed in fouling off pitches.
It was Sweet's 12th home run of the season and gave Michigan a 5-0 lead. Michigan loaded the bases when Romero singled up the middle, Christner walked and Kelsey Susalla singled up the middle. Sweet had struck out her previous at-bat on a rise ball.
"My adjustment was to go up there and use my timing swing and see a lot of pitches," Sweet said. "Even though I got down in the count I was able to come back and really see the ball and really see it down, so my game plan really worked out."
Michigan now has 117 home runs this season. Hutchins said during the offseason the team worked on "vision training" using tennis balls with numbers to get the players to focus and see the ball well. Sweet said the players don't go out there trying to hit home runs, but swing for base hits.
"We hit the ball square a lot," Hutchins said of her team.
It has been 10 years since Michigan's last softball national championship. Time will tell if this Michigan team is as gifted as Hutchins' 2005 Wolverines. But the current players have talked easily this postseason about their team chemistry, and without sounding overconfident or boastful, they feel good about their national title hopes.
"Our goal the entire year has been to win it all, and I think we can do it," Sweet said this week. "Without a doubt I believe we can do it. If we stay confident and believe in each other. If we continue to do that and believe we're good enough, because we are, and believe in ourselves that we can beat any team out there, we can do it."
Women's College World Series
ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, Oklahoma City
Florida 7, Tennessee 2
LSU 6, Auburn 1
Michigan 5, Alabama 0
UCLA 7, Oregon 1
Game 5: Florida vs. LSU, 7 p.m. ESPN2
Game 6: Michigan vs. UCLA, 9:30 p.m. ESPN2
Game 7: Tennessee vs. Auburn, noon ESPN
Game 8: Alabama vs. Oregon, 2:30 p.m. ESPN
Game 9: Game 5 loser vs. Game 7 winner, 7 p.m. ESPN
Game 10: Game 6 loser vs. Game 8 winner, 9:30 p.m. ESPN
Game 11: Game 5 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 1 p.m. ESPN
Game 12: Game 6 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 3:30 p.m. ESPN
Game 13 : Game 5 winner vs. Game 9 loser, 7 p.m., if necessary ESPNU
Game 14: Game 6 winner vs. Game 10 loser, 9:30 p.m., if necessary ESPNU
Note: If only one game is necessary, it will be played at 7 p.m.
Monday, 8 p.m. ESPN2
Tuesday, 8 p.m. ESPN
Wednesday, 8 p.m., if necessary ESPN