'Bulldog' Betsa throws no-no, UM stays alive in NCAAs
Seattle — Mere hours after possibly the worst start of her career, Megan Betsa tossed her second gem in two days and her third no-hitter of the season.
And while Betsa only needed one run, her offense provided early insurance as Michigan cruised to a 4-0 win against Fresno State in an NCAA Tournament regional elimination game at the University of Washington’s Husky Softball Field.
The pitching matchup was a rematch of Friday’s duel between Betsa (25-9) and Fresno State sophomore Kamalani Dung (26-15). But this time around, the Wolverines had no trouble getting to the Bulldogs’ ace, who had pitched a complete-game shutout against Montana less than an hour before.
Michigan junior left fielder Aidan Falk got the scoring started in the top of the first with a two-run home run to right-center field, and the Wolverines never looked back.
“I thought we swung well at some good pitches, good hitters’ pitches,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “(Dung) came off pitching a game, so I’m sure she was a little bit fatigued, and I thought we took advantage of that.”
Michigan (42-12) found itself in the must-win situation after suffering its worst loss this season, a five-inning, 12-4 loss to No. 7 Washington earlier Saturday. Betsa lasted just a third of an inning, struggling with her fastball command. She gave up a solo home run and a two-run double, both on off-speed pitches in three-ball counts. According to Hutchins, Betsa's problems were all mental.
“You know your pitchers, you know your players,” Hutchins said. “You know when they are throwing with confidence, when they’re swinging with confidence. It was our opinion she wasn’t.”
This time out though, Betsa went back to pitching like the two-time Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. The senior ace struck out four of the first five batters she faced and never slowed down, finishing with 13 strikeouts. She lost her perfect game on a walk in the bottom of the fourth — one of her two walks — but Fresno State rarely came close to breaking into the hit column, let alone scoring.
“She’s a bulldog on the mound, and she finds ways to get corners,” Fresno State coach Linda Garza said. “She throws hard, and I tip my hat. Three hundred fifty athletes have struck out against her; she’s doing something right. This isn’t us not making adjustments, she’s that good.”
Michigan stretched its lead to 3-0 in the top of the second on an RBI single from senior center fielder Kelly Christner, knocking in sophomore left fielder Natalie Peters, who had reached on a walk.
An inning later, Falk notched her third RBI of the day on a double that scored sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield to make it 4-0.
Christner, Canfield, Falk, and junior first baseman Tera Blanco led Michigan with two hits apiece.
Betsa’s sixth career no-hitter came in the most important game of the year for Michigan — one needed to keep the season alive.
The Wolverines started their first game against Washington off hot as well, with Christner leading off the top of the first with a solo home run to give Michigan an early 1-0 lead.
Washington came right back though, putting up three in the first, five in the third, and four in the fifth to mercy Michigan.
Blanco went the rest of the way in the circle, giving up nine runs on 12 hits. She helped her own cause in the top of the fourth with a three-run home run.
With the win, the Wolverines live to play another day and advance to the regional finals. They’ll get a rematch with the Huskies, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. Coming out of the loser’s bracket, Michigan will have to win twice to knock off Washington and punch its ticket to the Super Regionals.
“It’s been a long day, and it’s our hope to have a long day tomorrow,” Hutchins said.
Game 1: No. 2 Michigan 3, No. 3 Fresno State 1
Game 2: No. 1 Washington 8, No. 4 Montana 0
Game 3: Washington 12, Michigan 4
Game 4: Fresno State 7, Montana 0
Game 5: Michigan 4, Fresno State 0
Game 6: Washington vs. Michigan, 7 p.m.
Game 7 (if necessary): Washington vs. Michigan, 9:30 p.m.
Josh Kirshenbaum is a freelance writer.