Photos from MGoBlue.com, Chris Schwengler and Amir Gamzu
The softball postseason is upon us, with the team looking to repeat 2005's triumph at the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. As the overall #9 seed in the tournament, the Wolverines earned the right to host a regional in Ann Arbor, which was held this weekend. Louisville, Oregon State, and Eastern Michigan filled out the four-team bracket of the double-elimination regional. I couldn't make it to Michigan's Friday night opener against Eastern (which they won 3-0), but I sat in with the Alumni Band for our other games.
Saturday opened with a rain delay, sending us into Oosterbaan to wait it out. What makes softball different from other sports I've played for is that starting pitcher Lorilyn Wilson was the one to tell us our new start time. To be fair, football, basketball, and hockey don't usually have rain delays, but softball seems to have a tighter relationship with the band.
For the most part, Wilson had a good day against the Cardinals. In the first, she got her first pair of outs relatively easily, but then the Louisville shortstop managed to just turn on a pitch and drive it over the left field fence. She looked rattled after that, but a coach's visit to the circle settled her down and she imposed her will on Louisville for the next four innings.
Meanwhile, Michigan took back the lead on their next set of at-bats. Back-to-back singles and a Louisville error got the first run across and a Teddi Ewing base hit brought Maggie Viefhaus home. They then cracked the game open in the fourth with a big two-out rally. Rebekah Milian drew a walk, Samantha Findlay singled, then Angela Findlay (her sister) put an RBI single into center, bringing up Tiffany Worthy. Worthy took a nasty foul tip right on her thigh, walked it off, and then deposited the 2-2 pitch into the Louisville bullpen to clear the bases and score three.
Worthy's home run was the game-winner, but Louisville tried to make it interesting. Lorilyn was looking gassed in the 5th, allowing another solo home run to lead off the inning and then loading the bases on a walk and consecutive(!) hit batters. Freshman Nikki Nemitz came on to put out the fire, allowing one run on a sacrifice fly, but avoiding the big inning that had been brewing.
That was it as far as scoring went, and the Wolverines came away with the 6-3 victory. It wasn't the end of the second-guessing, though. Louisville elected to keep their best pitcher in the game even after it became 6-1, even though they must have suspected a loss might be in the cards, and thus would need to play the Oregon State/EMU winner for another shot at the Wolverines in the final. Instead of resting her for that game, they gambled that they'd either find a way to beat Michigan or that Pitcher #2 would be enough to handle the Beavers or Eagles. Things didn't work out that way, as the Beavers prevailed in both of their Saturday games to get their shot at the Wolverines.
In Sunday's game, the Michigan wasted no time in jumping on top of the Beavers to a tune of 5-0 after the first inning. Rebekah Milian hit a one-out single right through pitcher Brianne McGowan's five-hole, which really seemed to rattle her. Sam Findlay took her from an 0-2 count all the way to a walk, then she took Angela Findlay's hit and threw it to second base, where no one was covering, as the play was either at third to get the lead runner or first to get the hitter. She then walked Tiffany Worthy to load the bases, bringing up Maggie Viefhaus, who sent the 2-0 pitch deep to center. GRAND SLAM! The Oregon State centerfielder, Natalie Johnson, saw her playing career flashing before her eyes and leapt up the fence going after the ball, but she wasn't going to reach it without a ladder (Not that she didn't try her best. Her teammate in right had to rush over and grab her legs to keep her from tumbling down on the other side).
The Wolverines added a run in the second, with Viefhaus again coming through. Her base hit into right let Angela Findlay score from second and gave the band an easy music cue for "Hawaii 5-0." The third was a tough inning, as Michigan managed to load the bases with no outs, but let the Beavers get away, wasting the opportunity on infield grounders and a pop fly. However, they did tack on another run in the fourth when Molly Bausher's bloop single to left gave Michelle Weatherdon enough time to score from second.
And that was it. I haven't mentioned what Oregon State did at bat because they didn't really get anything going. Lorilyn Wilson had eight strikeouts, no Beavers made it past second all day, and only two made it that far. She just mowed them down all afternoon in a dominating performance.
The Wolverines are off to Waco, TX to take on the Baylor Bears in the NCAA Super Regional starting Friday, with a shot at making the Women's College World Series. The real question is whether they have a chance at repeating their awesome run through the 2005 tournament, and it's one I'll leave for an upcoming post, as this one is way too long already. For now I'll just say that college softball is a lot more fun than is commonly known, and that being part of the Alumni Band is the best way to experience it.