Wagner silences UCLA, Michigan rallies to win
Oklahoma City — The Michigan softball team has taken another step toward playing for a national championship, and did it the hard way, digging out of an early hole.
The third-ranked Wolverines defeated UCLA, ranked No. 7 and boasting the nation's top batting average, 10-4 in their second game of the World Series on Friday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. There were 9,425 at the two-game night session, the third-largest crowd in World Series history.
Michigan (58-6), playing in its 11th World Series, has now won 27 straight.
With the victory, the Wolverines get Saturday off and will play at 3:30 p.m. Sunday for a chance to move to the World Series championship round and a shot at the national championship. Michigan last won a national title in 2005.
The Wolverines trailed 3-0 after the first inning and coach Carol Hutchins was forced to insert senior Haylie Wagner for sophomore starter Megan Betsa, the winning pitcher from the first World Series victory Thursday night, a shutout against Alabama.
"That was a game," Hutchins said. "What a great game. It was exciting. We weren't just down, they were going after us. That is one heck of a hitting lineup, I think it's the best one we've seen all year. They were going to threaten the whole game.
"Haylie Wagner was as great as I've ever seen her. She didn't get to pitch in the World Series two years ago, she was injured and didn't see a pitch. All year long she said, 'I didn't get to pitch in the World Series,' and it's driven her all year. I couldn't be prouder of her, because she shut down a great lineup."
Wagner held UCLA scoreless the last four innings.
"Coming out here I knew my chance was going to come, and when it was coming I was going to do my best," Wagner said of finally getting to pitch in the World Series. "I'm at the World Series, and I'm going to leave it all out on the field. This entire year and last year I've just wanted to come out and get back here and experience this atmosphere and work my butt off and trust my team no matter what."
As has been typical of the Wolverines, they spread out the hitting after trailing 3-0. They had a four-run third inning to take the lead, but UCLA tied the game in the bottom of the inning.
Michigan scored in each of the final three innings, including three in the seventh, and Wagner pitched four shutout innings for the win.
Abby Ramirez was 3-for-3, and Kelly Christner and Kelsey Susalla each had three RBIs. Susalla was 4-for-4 and Christner was 3-for-5. Lindsay Montemarano had two RBIs on deep sacrifice hits.
But Michigan also had a big defensive stop in the bottom of the sixth inning when Sierra Lawrence had the defensive play of the night, making a diving catch in center of a well-struck ball by Delaney Spaulding to end the inning.
Hutchins said Betsa wasn't tired coming off the Thursday night victory, but the Bruins rattled her confidence.
"It's tough to come back out the second night," Hutchins said. "I personally just felt she knew they were a good-hitting team and they came out and hit her best pitch, her change-up, to the fence, and that can definitely wear on your confidence. They were swinging, they were aggressive, and she got on her heels a little bit. She wasn't attacking them."
Hutchins likes to say she doesn't have an ace, she has a deuce when it comes to pitching. Wagner and Betsa have talked frequently about how they complement each other and help one another when they're struggling, whether by offering encouragement or offering advice.
When Wagner got the call, she knew right away what she had to do.
"I knew they were attacking, and I had to attack right back," Wagner said. "I wasn't going to let them beat me."
After UCLA took a 3-0 lead, Hutchins said her players never flinched. She preaches pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning softball, and that's how the Wolverines approached the comeback.
They had to really from a 3-0 deficit against Georgia in the Super Regional, so this was not unfamiliar to them.
"In practice we do a drill, we come from behind to simulate what happened today," Susalla said. "It's not something new to us and we executed well."
Michigan relied on timely hits and steady play to regain its composure. A four-run third inning gave the Wolverines their first lead, and they scored in each of the final three innings to expand the lead after the teams were tied, 4-4.
The Wolverines, who entered the game leading the nation in home runs with 117, didn't have a home run against the Bruins.
Michigan's three-run seventh inning stretched its lead to six.
Lawrence, who had made the terrific diving catch to end the previous inning, ripped an RBI double to make it 8-4, and the Wolverines added another on a sacrifice by Sierra Romero.
Christner had an RBI single to score Lawrence, making it 10-4.
Hutchins said after the win that she has enjoyed this postseason ride with a team that has spoken openly about feeling confident about its national championship hopes.
"This last couple of weeks it's been really enjoyable for me, because our destiny is in their hands," Hutchins said. "I trust them completely. Whatever they do out here, they played their hearts out for Michigan all year. There's nothing they could do to disappoint me. This is a great team, and that's all I could ask for."
Michigan will have the day off Saturday, and Hutchins joked she plans to sleep. But she also tempered her joking with a dose of reality and a message to her players.
"We haven't won anything," Hutchins said. "We won a day off."
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
Florida 4, LSU 0
Michigan 10, UCLA 4
Game 7: Tennessee vs. Auburn, noon ESPN
Game 8: Alabama vs. Oregon, 2:30 p.m. ESPN
Game 9: LSU vs. Game 7 winner, 7 p.m. ESPN
Game 10: UCLA vs. Game 8 winner, 9:30 p.m. ESPN
Game 11: Florida vs. Game 9 winner, 1 p.m. ESPN
Game 12: Michigan vs. Game 10 winner, 3:30 p.m. ESPN
Game 13: Florida vs. Game 9 loser, 7 p.m., if necessary ESPNU
Game 14: Michigan 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