'Tough' UM thumps Irish, makes Super Regionals
Ann Arbor – Michigan coach Carol Hutchins is never one to get ahead of herself, and she certainly won’t let her players think beyond the next game.
But the second-ranked Wolverines (49-5) have advanced to the NCAA Super Regional next weekend against Missouri and have home-field advantage again at Alumni Field.
The first game will be at 3 p.m. Saturday, with the second game at noon Sunday and the third game, if necessary, to follow at 3 p.m.
What they do know is the winner advances to the Women’s College World Series. Michigan hopes to make its 12th World Series appearance after finishing as national champion runner-up last season.
But first things first.
The Wolverines won their third game of the regional, defeating Notre Dame 6-2 on Sunday afternoon at Alumni Field. They outscored their regional opponents 20-2 and have moved onto the Super Regional for the 11th time in the 12 years this format has existed -- Michigan missed out in 2011.
Michigan carried a 2-1 lead into the top of the fifth when the Wolverines’ bats got hot. Sierra Romero, the Big Ten’s three-time player of the year, reached first on a throwing error by Notre Dame pitcher Rachel Nasland and advanced to second on a wild pitch. With the bases loaded and one out, Aidan Falk singled in two runs, and the next at-bat, Lindsay Montemarano ripped a single to right-center to score two more, giving Michigan a 6-1 lead.
“I was just looking for something to drive hard,” Montemarano said after the game.
Romero gave Michigan an early 1-0 lead after homering to left field. It was her 19th of the season and second of the regional weekend.
The Wolverines took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third when Sierra Lawrence hit a home run to left field.
Notre Dame’s first run came of a Karley Wester home run in the bottom of the third. The Irish added a run in the bottom of the fifth and appeared to have some momentum. But right fielder Kelsey Susalla threw Ali Wester out at the plate.
Michigan pitcher Megan Betsa, dominant in all three regional games this weekend, had a strong showing in the bottom of the fourth. With the tying run at second, Hutchins walked to the circle to have a chat, and Betsa then struck out the next two batters.
“She came out there and told me my body speed looked slow,” Betsa said. “That tends to be when I get in trouble -- when I try to place the ball when my body speed slows down. So she told me to spin the ball through the zone, and she got the result she wanted and I wanted.”
Betsa had nine strikeouts against the Irish, and gave up eight hits and two runs. She had 24 strikeouts during the three regional games. Her record improves to 26-3.
“My mental toughness today was what really helped me win,” Betsa said. “It’s been something I’ve had to work really hard at. It’s something I’ve gotten pretty good at. But today they were throwing punches, and I had to throw punches back.”
While Hutchins won’t look ahead, she does know what her team needs and when.
She wants them to celebrate the regional victory and not return to practice until Tuesday. The players said they will probably hang out with each other anyway, and Montemarano said they likely will watch a few “scary movies.”
“I told my kids in the locker room, we didn’t always do everything right (against Notre Dame), but we were just tough,” Hutchins said. “When we needed to be tough, we were tough. That’s the only way you get to keep playing is you have to be the toughest team on the field. We have to be tough around the edges. You have to be tough physically but mostly you have to be tough mentally.
“I told them you need to celebrate winning a regional. We need to celebrate that because it’s a big achievement and at Michigan, there’s not a kid in that locker room … they feel the pressure of it. I told them to celebrate it and we’ll get back to business Tuesday. Get away from softball, go see your parents, go relax for a couple days. We need a break. I’m very proud of them.”
Left-fielder Kelly Christner said the team has tempered enthusiasm after the regional victory.
“It shouldn’t be any surprise that we make it on to a Super,” Christner said. “We still are appreciative of it, but not necessarily exaggerated (in our celebration).”
Missouri (42-14) advanced with a 9-0 victory over Nebraska on Saturday and is making its eighth Super Regional appearance since 2008.
The Wolverines routed then-No. 18 Missouri, 13-0, when the teams played in a Fullerton, Calif., tournament in March. Missouri pitcher Paige Lowary had been hit in the face the day before; her right eye was swollen and cut under the eyebrow.
Michigan that game took advantage of a shaken Missouri team that allowed nine walks and hit three batters.
“They’re a really good team,” Hutchins said of Missouri. “I do know the day we played was the day after their star pitcher was hit in the face with a ball, and they were down. We are not playing that team. That team is gone. They’re a very good team and I can only say there’s no bad teams (at this stage).”
The Tigers, now ranked No. 15, have won 12 of the last 14 and won their regional outscoring opponents 26-0. Lowary pitched three complete-game shutouts in the regional.
“Missouri playing like they are right now is right up there with anyone,” Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle told the Columbia Tribune. “I think they can compete with anyone in the country right now.”
Michigan vs. Missouri
What: NCAA Super Regional.
Where: Alumni Field, Ann Arbor.
Tickets: On sale to the general public on Tuesday at mgoblue.com.
At stake: Spot in Women’s College World Series.
Notable: This is one of eight two-team Super Regionals. In last year’s Super Regionals, Michigan swept Georgia 10-3 and 7-6.
Game 1: Saturday, 3 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 2: Sunday, noon (ESPN)
Game 3 (if necessary): Sunday, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)