May 7, 2016
ANN ARBOR — The celebration was spectacularly minimal.
Michigan softball, as it has now done in 19 of the last 22 years, won another Big Ten championship on Saturday afternoon. In an 11-1 five-inning decision at U-M’s Wilpon Complex, the No. 2 ranked Wolverines quickly dismissed visiting Rutgers to claim the title and the top seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament.
Michigan improved to 43-4 overall and 20-2 in the Big Ten. The league championship was their ninth straight. The win was their 16th in a row.
When the game ended with a shallow fly to left field, the Wolverines jogged to the infield for some high-fives. There was no piling on the pitcher, Sara Driesenga, who improved to 20-0 on the season. There was no victory lap.
The subtlety signified a team with eyes on a bigger prize — returning to the Women’s College World Series to chase a second national title for coach Carol Hutchins’ program.
“The Big Ten championship is great,” senior second baseman Sierra Romero said. “But it’s not our ultimate goal.”
Romero and her fellow seniors sat in the middle of the U-M locker room after the game, surrounded by teammates. Hutchins entered to say, “Let me be the first to congratulate you on a Big Ten championship.”
On Sunday, the final regular-season game of the season will celebrate those seniors and their combined four-year record of 201-40. Romero, Driesenga and fellow All-American candidate Sierra Lawrence will be honored at Senior Day along with Lauren Connell, Olivia
Richvalsky, Mary Sbonek and Kelsey Susalla
Michigan will look to end the season with a fifth straight series sweep. Rutgers (24-31, 8-14) also lost on Friday night at Wilpon in a 9-1 five-inning game.
Things weren’s easier on Saturday.
Facing a 3-1 deficit in the bottom of the second inning and the bases loaded, the call came from the Rutgers dugout not to tempt fate. Pitcher Dresden Maddox threw four straight pitches without flirting with Romero’s strike zone, opting for a walk and a run scored.
After tacking on a fifth run, Michigan broke the game open with six runs in the bottom of the fourth.
The barrage began with Romero proving why it’s unwise to pitch to her. With Lawrence on first, she saw a pitch to hit and turned on it.
The line drive over the centerfield wall nearly impaled an unsuspecting hot dog stand.
Romero’s 14th home run of the season was followed by a two-run, two-out double from Aidan Falk that dropped in between a trio of Rutgers fielders.
Still with two outs, Faith Canfield notched her third home run of the season with a two-run shot to left field.
Michigan’s winning streak now dates back to April 9. Early losses in conference play came against Northwestern and Nebraska, but 16 straight wins have now come by a combined 128-21 score.
“Those losses didn’t mean anything to us,” Romero said. “We knew they didn’t define us as a team.”
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