LSU coach sees fantastic finals with Michigan, Florida

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Oklahoma City — Michigan's softball program last won a national championship 10 years ago.

Florida is the defending national champion.

The two will meet in the best-of-three Women's College World Series championship round to determine the national title beginning tonight at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 8 p.m., Detroit-time.

Michigan came from behind to beat LSU, 6-3, on Sunday, and Florida needed nine innings to slip past Auburn, 3-2, in the earlier game to advance to the championship round unbeaten in the series.

"I think both Florida and Michigan are two great teams," LSU coach Beth Torina said after losing to the third-ranked Wolverines. "I think it's going to be exciting for the whole softball world to see a series between two really quality teams."

Torina has faced both teams this season, and said they are evenly matched. Michigan is 59-6, including two early-season losses to Florida, and the Gators are 58-6.

"I think the two teams are great, I really do," Torina said. "They both have so many things going for them. They both have great offenses, they both are strong on the mound. They both play solid defense. I think Michigan is an extremely deep lineup one through nine. There's not a moment where you get to catch your breath in that lineup.

"Florida has the 'X' factor with Lauren Haeger, who has just been phenomenal in the postseason, and the second half of the season she's been on a mission. They've been here before, and they know how to win it. It's going to be a fun series for everybody to watch, and I have huge respect for both teams. I did graduate from the University of Florida but I have a lot of respect for both teams."

Haeger is the national player of the year, as well as the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year, while Michigan sophomore Megan Betsa is the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. The Wolverines have relied on lefty senior Haylie Wagner the last two games after Betsa struggled early.

Florida's Kelsey Stewart is the SEC Player of the Year, and Michigan's Sierra Romero, who was a finalist for National Player of the Year, is two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.

"I think they're playing outstanding ball," said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, who in her 31 seasons has led Michigan to 11 World Series appearances. "Honestly, I watched them the first night we got here, (and) I think they looked like the Yankees."

Michigan center fielder Sierra Lawrence, sitting to Hutchins' right during the postgame news conference, then asked the critical question.

"Who do we look like?" Lawrence said, drawing laughter.

Hutchins was quick with her response.

"I'll let you know later," she said.

During the postseason, Hutchins has talked about how much playing with heart is just as significant as strong hitting and pitching. Florida head coach Tim Walton said similar things about his Gators, who said they "escaped" in the Auburn game.

"These guys are fighters," Walton said. "We built this program because of them, and they know how to win. I think that ingredient right there is probably the biggest component that I've taken from these players. They may not be the best in every skill, but they're really good at a lot of skills and they're really good at the winning skill. I'm really happy for that, that's for sure."

Michigan enters the game with 118 home runs, which leads the nation, after Romero added one against LSU.

The Gators have advanced to the championship series three times since 2009, including 2011 and 2014 when they won it all.

But the Wolverines, motivated early in the World Series after receiving letters from the players on the 2005 national-title team, have won 28 straight and want to fulfill their goal of winning it all.

"We came here not to just compete," said third baseman Lindsay Montemarano. "All year we had a goal. Our goal wasn't just to make it to Oklahoma City, but it was to win the championship game. And Florida is a great team. We've played them this year and had great battles with them. We can't focus on them. We have to focus on us, and we'll be OK if we focus on us."