'Hearts,' huge rally send Wolverines to World Series

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan pitcher Megan Betsa, right, celebrates with catcher Aidan Falk, left, and third baseman Lindsay Montemarano after getting the last out of the game Sunday.

Ann Arbor – Michigan needed fireworks in a seventh-inning comeback and got them with a four-run surge to secure a spot in the College World Series.

The second-ranked Wolverines trailed 4-1 entering the seventh and made an astounding rally to defeat Missouri, 5-4, on Sunday at Alumni Field in the Super Regionals. Michigan will make its second straight Women’s College World Series appearance in Oklahoma City this week after finishing as the national champion runner-up last season. This will be the Wolverines’ third appearance in the last four years and 12th overall.

“One of the very greatest victories ever in the history of Michigan softball,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins, the winningest coach in college softball, said after the game. “I told them their hearts are so blue and the reason we’re still playing is because of their heart. And whether we won that game or lost that game, or won this tournament or lost this tournament, I would have loved them no matter what because these kids give us all they can every year.

“This team has fought really hard. Usually they fight themselves first. They’ve had high expectations all year and had to work through the burden of it. I’m looking forward to getting to Oklahoma City so we can finally enjoy playing. I’m so proud. I haven’t cried like this after a win since we won the national championship (2005). I couldn’t be prouder.”

Michigan, the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, is now the highest-seeded team remaining in the tournament after Georgia upset two-time defending national champion Florida on Friday. The Wolverines will face LSU in the World Series starting Thursday, although the game time has not yet been set.

Michigan gave up a late costly three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth, for the 4-1 deficit entering the top of the seventh. The Wolverines had generated little offense through the game, but stunned the Tigers with four runs – the last coming on a wild pitch – to take the one-run advantage.

Michigan was the visiting team for Game 2. The seventh began with Lindsay Montemarano, who homered in each of the two Super Regional games against Missouri, reaching first when shortstop Sami Fagan lost an easy popup in the sun.

“I told Sami I’ve got to get my heart rate down – I’m a little too amped up,” Missouri freshman Rylee Pierce, who had hit the three-run homer, told Fagan when the Tigers were on defense in the top of the seventh. “She said, ‘We’re going to take it pitch by pitch, batter by batter, and we’re going to get it done.’ I said OK, and I took a few more breaths.

“As the game was going (in the seventh), they kept putting it in play. Sami had an unfortunate sun problem. It didn’t really shake us that much. You have to score four runs to get ahead, and so I think our next thought was, ‘Get the next out.’ I don’t think our heart rates had gone up too high, I think we were just saying, ‘Get the next out, get the next out,’ and they happened to get lucky.”

Amanda Vargas had the first out on a fly to right, and then things got interesting. Big Ten Player of the Year Sierra Romero, with bases loaded, sent one deep to score the first run on a sacrifice fly.

With two out, Kelly Christner laced a single down the right-field line to score another, then Kelsey Susalla doubled in the tying run, making it 4-4.

“Obviously I’ve been struggling a little bit at the plate, but my teammates and coaches have been so supportive of me over the weekend,” Susalla said. “I just had a feeling that at-bat something was going to come my way if I just keep swinging, so that’s what I did.”

A wild pitch during Tera Blanco’s at-bat scored Christner for Michigan’s go-ahead run.

Starting pitcher Megan Betsa, whose back had been nagging her during the game, returned to the circle in the bottom of the seventh after Sara Driesenga, who had given up the three-run home run, hit the Tigers’ first batter, Kolby Romaine, in the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Missouri’s speedy leadoff hitter Taylor Gadbois reached first on a fielder’s choice and then stole two bases. Betsa got the second out with a strikeout of Emily Crane and Amanda Sanchez grounded out to first for the final out.

And the celebration began at Alumni Field.

“Megan was struggling a little bit,” Hutchins said of the decision to go with Driesenga, a dropball specialist who induces many ground ball outs. “Her back was bothering her a little bit, and at this point of the game, I’m operating with my gut, and my gut was we need some ground balls. The second one wasn’t a very good ground ball (the home run by Pierce). Came back and decided we were going to go with Megan.”

Missouri took a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning when Pierce hit that three-run home run to right-center off Driesenga.

Michigan took a 1-0 lead over Missouri in the top of the second inning when Montemarano hit a home run to center. It was her 10th homer of the season and second in two days.

The Tigers went four scoreless innings before tying the game, 1-1, with two out in the bottom of the fifth. Gadbois doubled, scoring Romaine. It could have been more for the Tigers had Regan Nash not been caught by poor base running. She was safe at first, and broke for second when she saw the ball was mishandled. But Susalla, backing up on the play, made the throw to first, where Nash got caught.

During that inning, Betsa, who had issues in the preseason with her back, showed the first signs of a problem after her first pitch to Nash. After meeting with the team medical trainer and coaches, she stayed in. Betsa gave up the tying run two batters later before striking out Crane for the final out.

Michigan, which won Game 1 Saturday 5-3, entered the Super Regional leading the nation in scoring and on-base percentage, but the Wolverines couldn’t get anything going and were retired in order in the fifth and sixth innings.

Missouri took advantage of its momentum in the bottom of the sixth. With one out and two on – Fagan doubled to right-center and Rathburn was intentionally walked – when Hutchins made the pitching change. Two batters later, the Tigers took the lead on the home run and it looked like the series would go to a third game until Michigan’s seventh.

“I’ve been around the game long enough to know that the best team wins,” Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine said.

Michigan players circle around Alumni Field with high-fives for fans after their win Sunday over Missouri.