Michigan softball opens with win over Fresno State
Seattle — Aidan Falk’s one out, two-run line drive down the first-base line in the bottom of the fifth was all the Michigan softball team needed for its 3-1 win over Fresno State on Friday night at the NCAA Softball Tournament regional opener at University of Washington’s Husky Softball Field.
“It started with our pitcher,” Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins said. “Megan Betsa had a great day for us and gave us a chance to win.”
Michigan ace Megan Betsa (24-8) bested the Bulldogs’ Kamalani Dung (25-14) in a pitching duel. Betsa pitched a complete game, throwing seven innings with 13 strikeouts, no earned runs and one hit.
“I’m a strikeout pitcher,” Betsa said. “It’s not something I focus on, but because of my span, I get a lot of strikeouts.”
Betsa started the game on fire, striking out four of the first five batters she faced.
“I had some good curves going there,” Betsa said.
Betsa credited the resurgence of her off-speed pitches as the primary factor to her success.
“The rising change-up was working really well,” Betsa said. “It was nice to see my rise-ball back, jumping like it normally does.”
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth, senior center fielder Kelly Christner reached first base on a walk. Senior shortstop Abby Ramirez followed with an infield hit to first base. Then sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield knocked a hit to left field.
With the bases loaded and one out, Falk smashed a 2-2 pitch down the first-base line, scoring Christner and Ramirez, giving the Wolverines the lead for good.
“I was just thinking to tee the back of the ball, hit the back of the ball,” Falk said. “It was just a routine hit.”
The only scare for Michigan came with Fresno State’s run, broght about by an error.
With one out and a runner on first in the top of the fifth, Michigan junior first baseman Tera Blanco scooped up Haley Fuller’s grounder, went to apply the tag but dropped the ball, putting runners on first and third.
Fresno State’s Dominique Jackson hit an outfield pop-up down the first-base line, where Michigan second baseman Faith Canfield raced over to make an acrobatic catch. Kierra Willis tagged at third and outran Canfield’s throw to home plate, sliding just under the tag to tie the score at 1.
Betsa got out of the jam by striking out the final batter with runners on first and second.
“My curve was a little off,” Betsa said. “But I tried to keep working through it.”
Michigan struck first in the bottom of the second.
After the Wolverines drew consecutive walks, sophomore left fielder Natalie Peters hit a blooper that one-hopped over Fresno State’s shortstop, allowing Tera Blanco to race in for the score.
“I was certainly happy to get it on the board,” Hutchins said.
Michigan (42-11-1) stays in the winners bracket and will face Washington at 5 p.m. Saturday.
One key area the Wolverines will be looking to improve heading into Saturday’s game is a looser approach at the plate.
“I’d like to see them a little looser, free-swinging,” Hutchins said. “I thought we were a little tight, which had a lot to do with opening night. I’d just like to see us go up there and swing free.”
Hutchins said no matter who the Wolverines face, it’ll be crucial to play together as a team.
“We talk about we,” Hutchins said. “We as a team, it’s our only chance. Regardless of who we play, we have to stay confident. We’re excited to win. We’ll enjoy it for about a minute, then we’ll get ready for tomorrow.”
Game 1: No. 2 Michigan 3, No. 3 Fresno State 1
Game 2: No. 1 Washington 8, No. 4 Montana 0
Game 3: Michigan vs. Washington, 5 p.m.
Game 4: Fresno State vs. Montana, 7:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 10 p.m.
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary): Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 10:30 p.m.
Eric Trent is a freelance writer.