Michigan’s softball seniors leave lasting legacy

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Oklahoma City — Michigan coach Carol Hutchins has called standout Sierra Romero the face of the program since her arrival as a freshman.

Michigan fans saw the last of Romero — and her six senior teammates – on Sunday when the second-ranked Wolverines (52-7) lost, 1-0, to Florida State in a College World Series elimination game.

Romero, the three-time Big Ten Player of the Year, was named National Player of the Year last week. She helped lead the senior class to three World Series appearances in four years.

Hutchins praised Romero for her humility.

“There are too many great Michigan women and my thing is, even if you’re Sierra Romero, you still live up to the Michigan standards,” Hutchins said. “I’m about the Michigan standards. We understand how great she is, and we understand how great Charles Woodson is and Desmond Howard, and you can rank her in those categories, but they still had to live up to the Michigan standard every day.

“Nobody’s above it and that’s what I’m proud of her for.”

Romero said Michigan has enhanced her in so many ways.

“I mean, ever since I stepped foot on campus, Michigan has done nothing but great things for me, and I've just tried my best to represent Michigan the best way I know how,” Romero said. “Playing for Hutch and Team 39 this year has been amazing. There's no other place I'd rather be, no other uniform I'd rather wear, and I love Michigan.”

The players entered the postgame news conference with reddened eyes, but the tears had dried.

“I've got a lot of heartbroken kids, a fantastic senior class that has to say goodbye, and I told them just to reflect on their careers, what they've meant to Michigan and what Michigan has meant to them,” Hutchins said. “We'll hold our head high at the end of the day because they represent this institution and the sport of softball. They represent their families every day the way our institution asks them to do it. They're great Michigan women.”

Rightfielder Kelsey Susalla said this World Series experience, although the Wolverines did not reach the championship round as they did last year when they were national runner up, was fulfilling.

“My time here has been awesome,” Susalla said. “This last year with 20 other girls was just amazing. We didn't get the outcome that we wanted, but I wouldn't have traded these last three days for anything. Any extra day that I can be with my teammates is an awesome experience for me. I thank Hutch for giving me this opportunity, and it's been awesome.”

Wolverines eliminated despite Betsa's 1-hitter

Pitcher Sara Driesenga was the lone fifth-year senior in the class.

“This is a different experience,” she said. “It’s a bigger class, there’s a lot of personalities, and I think that’s what’s so great about it. I feel so honored to have been an honorary member of the senior class. They welcomed (me) in so great, and some of them are my best friends, and we’re going to be sisters for life.

“It was obviously great to get here. It didn’t end how we wanted it to end. I got to put the jersey on for another year. It’s great to be around these people and that’s all you can ask for is to be around them as long as possible.”

Driesenga did as Hutchins asked and reflected on her season and career.

“She said it very well. She says this all the time, ‘You don’t go to Michigan for four or five years, you go for life,’” Driesenga said. “There’s still great things to come for all of us seniors. We worked hard. We gave it all we could. That’s all you can ask for, and that’s all Hutch asks for. She says she’s going to love us know matter what.”

Betsa gutsy again

Driesenga fought back tears while talking about Megan Betsa’s pitching performance in the World Series, particularly her one-hitter in the 1-0 loss to Florida State on Sunday.

“I mean, she left it all out there, that’s all you could ask of her,” her voice cracking as she fought back tears. “I told her she left her heart out there. I’m her biggest fan.”

Hutchins has described Betsa’s pitching most games this postseason as “gutsy”. Betsa has dealt with a nagging back issue. She finishes the season 28-5.

“She gave us a lot of gutsy performances,” Hutchins said. “She has learned so much about herself.”

Hutchins said she never asked Betsa if she was physically struggling before Sunday’s game, which Michigan played 12 hours after losing to Oklahoma Saturday night.

“I figured if she couldn’t pitch she would tell me,” Hutchins said. “Megan got better as the game went on. Megan kept getting better and better, we just needed to find a way to scratch out a run. Your pitcher gives you a chance to win, your offense has to win it, and our offense just didn’t get it done today. Man, we’re all disappointed, but it’s not going to diminish this year, I won’t let it.”

Funny aside

Hutchins was standing not far from the team bus talking to reporters while her players stopped to sign autographs on their way out, when her attention was drawn to a young woman and a sign.

The woman’s face popped through a cutout in the sign, which read, “Put me in coach” with an arrow pointing to her face.

Hutchins noticed and laughed.

“That’s funny,” she said

“Next year coach?” the young woman asked.

“I should have put you in today,” Hutchins deadpanned.