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Betsa’s 'gutsy' performance, late rally lift UM

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Oklahoma City — Michigan relied again on gutsy pitching from veteran Megan Betsa and some late-inning offense to win its first game of the College World Series.

After a one-day postponement because of rain, Michigan and LSU met Friday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, and the Wolverines advanced with a 2-0 victory. Betsa had eight strikeouts.

“What a great game,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “What a pitchers duel. What a gutsy performance by both pitchers. In a game like that, and I told the kids late in the game there, you’ve got to stay tough and toughness is not allowing yourself to go mentally in the wrong direction to just start worrying about, ‘Oh, we haven’t scored a run’ or start worrying about anything.

“Just staying tough and staying in the moment, and I thought we did an outstanding job of that. It came down to a timely hit. I thought LSU played outstanding, and (pitcher Allie) Walljasper was outstanding, but we were outstanding, as well. Again, Megan Betsa gave us a great chance to win and that’s why we’re sitting up here.”

Both teams stranded six baserunners.

The second-ranked Wolverines broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth when, with bases loaded and no out, Tera Blanco hit a two-run double to right giving Michigan the 2-0 advantage.

Blanco was the first batter Carley Hoover faced after taking over for starter Allie Walljasper, who had loaded the bases.

“I just went up there looking for a good pitch to hit and get it out in front,” Blanco said. “She throws hard, and I was looking to hit the ball on the ground. I was really excited when I saw the ball off my bat, and I’m pretty sure everyone else was, too. I think the energy of my team and Megan throwing her game made everyone more excited.”

LSU coach Beth Torina said the Tigers’ game plan involved using multiple pitchers.

“Because we thought they had a big offense and a big threat,” Torina said, considering that Michigan entered the series leading the country in scoring (8.2 runs per game) and team on-base percentage (.463) and ranked third in batting average (.352). “Trying to keep them off balance with different looks was the plan going into it, and I thought it was a good time for (the pitching change) to happen.

“Carley had been great in relief. I’d go to her any day of the week, all the time. I’m 100 percent confident in her. Still right now I wouldn’t change a thing I did.”

Michigan (52-5), the highest remaining seed in the eight-team World Series, was the national champion runner up last season. The Wolverines will face Oklahoma — which defeated Alabama 3-0 on a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth in Friday's first game Friday — at 9:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2.

The story within the game will be the Romero sisters facing each other. Michigan senior Sierra Romero, named National Player of the Year this week, will play against her younger sister Sydney, a freshman at Oklahoma.

LSU entered the game having talked a bit about revenge. Michigan knocked it out of the World Series last year.

Michigan struggled to get its offense going early with only one hit through three innings. The Wolverines started to hit Walljasper in the fourth inning with Kelsey Susalla reaching first on a single down the right-field line and Blanco taking the first pitch to left for a single with one out.

But Walljasper survived the inning, getting Lindsay Montemarano to ground out for the final out.

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins talked throughout the NCAA postseason about Betsa’s gusty performances. Betsa was challenged again by LSU and questionable calls from the plate umpire but delivered again for the Wolverines.

Betsa faced a major test in the top of the fifth when LSU had runners on first and second and one out. Sandra Simmons reached first on a walk. Hutchins went out to talk to Betsa.

“She came out there and asked me if I’m calm, and I told her, ‘No,’” Betsa said, drawing laughter. “She just reminded me I needed to be calm and trust my spin and trust my defense.”

After Hutchins left the circle, Betsa said she took a deep breath and was ready to go.

The next batter, Bailey Landry, was hit by her own batted ball outside the box and was called out and Bianka Bell struck out swinging, stranding two LSU runners.

Michigan was retired quickly in the bottom of the fifth, and Betsa took care of the LSU order in the sixth, including two strikeouts.

Romero opened the Wolverines’ sixth with a walk and Kelly Christner singled with no outs.

“Early in the at-bat I was looking to bunt to move Romo,” Christner said. “She was throwing balls. With a 3-0 count, especially in that situation, you’re taking, and we decided to also take on 3-1, because if she throws another ball it’s first and second with no outs, and I’m so comfortable with a two-strike at bat, I was just looking for that pitch to hit because I knew she was coming with another one.”

Susalla was down 0-2 in the count, stayed patient and drew a walk.

“One of our philosophies is to find a way to be on base,” Hutchins said. “Give her credit for being 0-2 and finding a way not to swing at her pitches and make her throw where she needed to. Kelsey is a dangerous hitter. It was a big at-bat for us.”

LSU made the pitching change, and Blanco took a 2-2 pitch to right field for the two-run double.

Hutchins has praised Betsa throughout the postseason for her gutsy play, and it was no different after the Wolverines’ first World Series game. Betsa said she has learned a lot about herself in recent weeks.

“I’m learning I am a lot better than I ever thought I would be,” Betsa said. “And I have a great team behind me. They put themselves out there for me, and I just realized I have to do the same and give my all and whatever I have at the time is good enough.”

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

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