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Michigan begins bid for 12th World Series appearance

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – The lights were on at Alumni Field Sunday night, it was pleasant out, and the music was loud.

It was time for the Michigan softball team, two days removed from a disappointing loss in the Big Ten Tournament to rebound and have some fun.

“We were all swinging for the fences,” sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield said Tuesday.

Michigan was three outs from beating Michigan State when the Spartans rallied to upset the No. 2-seeded Wolverines, who saw their 36-game home winning streak snapped.

But now the Wolverines are headed into their 25th NCAA Tournament appearance — 22nd in a row — and will leave this morning for Seattle where they will play in the regional hosted by No. 6-seed Washington. Michigan (41-11-1) will face Fresno State ((34-21) on Friday at 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2).

It’s their first step toward trying to make their 12th World Series appearance.

“We had a team meeting and for lack of a better term, regrouped,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said after Tuesday’s practice.

“We did have a little time before the Selection Show, so we went out and had Home Run Derby under the lights, and it was fun. Great energy. The kids were feeling good. They had gotten through their loss.”

Before the fun, though, they gathered in the team meeting room and talked.

“We didn’t need softball,” she said.

“We sat in this room and we connected. I thought the kids opened up and that was one of our best meetings of the year.”

Hutchins asked her players that knowing what they know now, what would they have done to change things Friday during the Big Ten Tournament.

“I reminded them of that today — ‘You said you would enjoy every moment more, that you would live in the moment more,’” Hutchins said.

“’That you wouldn’t worry about whether we were going to win. You would just enjoy.’ That’s what we need to do this weekend. That’s how we’ll be our best.”

Canfield said she hasn’t quite gotten over the loss. Even Tuesday she repeated to teammates: “We only needed three outs.” She said she will use that for motivation.

“Hopefully it will light a fire under our butt and continue to push us forward,” she said.

Sophomore catcher Katie Alexander said the team will use the loss as a “push” into the NCAA Tournament.

“Kind of like a reminder that any team can beat anybody,” Alexander said. “Going in and facing tough opponents isn’t going to scare us. We’re excited to play. It’s just a reminder that nothing’s given.”

Just ask Minnesota, the Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion. The Golden Gophers fully expected to be hosting a regional and instead were sent on the road

The Gophers, ranked No. 1 in the latest Coaches’ poll, was sent to the Alabama regional. Five Big Ten teams made the NCAA Tournament.

“We were shocked,” Hutchins said of Minnesota’s destination. “To be honest, I think the NCAA Committee really had a meltdown. It’s really disappointing and I think there’s going to be some backlash. I’m certain of it.

“The Big Ten had the third number (of teams in), and yet our No. 1, the Golden Girl, didn’t even host. I think the committee doesn’t have enough people that — they need to do a better job. We deserve better than that.”

Hutchins, of course, is focused on the Wolverines and facing Fresno State. The Wolverines worked on fundamentals in practices the last two days.

“Based on what we know about Fresno, their pitcher will look a lot like a lot of pitchers we’ve seen throughout the year,” she said.

“I don’t personally spend too much time focusing on the other team. We’ll certainly want to know their tendencies, want to know what their pitcher will throw, but we’re going to have to hit the ball, we’re going to have to catch it, we’re going to field it, we’re going to have to throw it, we’re going to have to pitch it.

“You know, being at an away stadium sometimes that can help you.

“Sometimes going away can be what you need. I would like to think we will show up and play.”

Seattle Regional

Friday

(TV coverage to be determined for Saturday and Sunday games.)

Game 1:No. 2 Michigan (41-11-1) vs. No. 3 Fresno State (34-21), 9 (ESPN2)

Game 2:No. 1 Washington (43-11) vs. No. 4 Montana (35-22), 11:30 (ESPN3)

Saturday

Game 3:Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 5

Game 4:Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 7:30

Game 5:Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 10

Sunday

Game 6:Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 7.

Game 7(if necessary): Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 10:30