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Hutchins: World Series exit doesn’t define Wolverines

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
The Michigan bench reacts during final plays in Sunday's loss to Florida State in the Women's College World Series.

Oklahoma City — Many years ago, before Carol Hutchins won a softball national championship at Michigan, she shadowed a respected colleague.

After a few days, something struck Hutchins, and she had to ask the question.

“’If you don’t ever win the national championship, are you going to feel like you’re not a success?’” Hutchins asked her friend. “And she goes, ‘Yeah.’ I learned right then, it would make all 31 of my years unsuccessful.

“I don’t believe that. Most people don’t win a championship. Most of my kids know so many players who have never, ever got to play on this stage. I don’t take it for granted, and I don’t think it’s as easy as everyone makes it seem.”

Hutchins’ 32nd season as Michigan’s coach ended Sunday when the second-ranked Wolverines were eliminated from the College World Series by Florida State. The Wolverines were pursuing the program’s second national title, and first since 2005.

It was a difficult farewell to her class of seven seniors that included Sierra Romero, named the National Player of the Year this season. Hutchins has called her the face of the program. The seniors had reached the eight-team College World Series three of their four years.

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The players, who spent a lengthy amount of time signing autographs after the loss for awaiting fans, cried hard after losing the elimination game.

“I’ve been here a lot and had only one year when I didn’t leave here crying, and even then I cried,” Hutchins said. “You cry no matter what. You cry because it’s over. In ’05 we cried and our kids didn’t want to take off their jerseys and I couldn’t get them to leave campus. I said, ‘You’re done, leave.’ They all sat there.

“That’s why we’re sad. We’re sad because it’s over. They’ll bounce back because these young people are way more resilient than us old people. In a few hours they’ll be having fun, they’ll be loving each other and glad we’re still together.”

Hutchins has no answer for why her team never seemed loose during the World Series. After the loss to Oklahoma Saturday night, she felt the Wolverines were too focused on the Sooners and not themselves. And while the bus ride to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Sunday was fun, Hutchins said that didn’t carry over into the dugout.

She thinks her team simply got caught paying attention to the wrong team.

“There’s not any team here that thought we were supposed to do anything,” Hutchins said. “You didn’t see any of these teams saying, ‘Oh, wow, Michigan is here.’ They don’t give a crap about anybody else. We can’t give a crap about that. That’s not how we coach, that’s not what we teach. If we went there, we got what we deserved.

“There’s no pressure here. You’re here, it’s awesome. Play to win. We gave away too many opportunities, we gave away too many at-bats all week.”

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After losing to Florida last year in the national championship final, she insisted that wouldn’t define her team, and this loss will not define them. It took winning a national championship for this to really make complete sense for Hutchins.

That’s been her message to her players, and that will always be her message.

“One thing I learned after the national championship, it definitely doesn’t define you,” she said. “If winning defines you, you’re not focused on the right things. I’m defined by all the women that I’ve been able to help grow up and who have impacted my life equally. I define myself by that.

“We’ve won a lot of games here, we’ve lost a lot of games here. It’s a sport. We do the best we can every day.”

Hutchins takes pride in developing her players into exceptional young women.

“There’s not a kid who leaves our program ever — and I know so many other kids who leave other programs that can’t wait to take that uniform off and get the hell out the door — our kids never want to take their jersey off,” Hutchins said. “I am the most proud our kids got the greatest experience of their life and they win a lot of games and they go to the World Series.

“They’ve been able to do that for so many years but the fact that they love their experience and they cry their eyes out, nobody has what we have. Our kids come back from their travels around the country with other teams and they meet these kids from all these programs, and I’m going to tell you what, they come back and they say, ‘Wow, nobody has what we have.’”

And that, for Hutchins, is the only important part of her legacy.