May 28, 2016
ANN ARBOR — After gathering her team for a post-practice message on Wednesday, Carol Hutchins walked off the field before stopping to talk to an onlooker. Her team had been off the prior two days and the Michigan coach was hoping for the Wolverines — ranked No. 2 in the nation — to come back fresh.
Hutchins got her wish. She said afterward: “You know, that was one of our best practices of the year.”
Good timing. It showed on Saturday in the opening game of the NCAA Super Regionals.
Facing a Missouri team that won its three games in the Columbia Regional last weekend by a combined 26-0 score, No. 2-seeded Michigan ran off with a 5-3 victory over the 15th-seeded Tigers (42-15).
The Wolverines (50-5) can now return to the College World Series with a win on Sunday. The two will meet again at noon back at Alumni Field. An if-necessary third game in the series is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.
The winner of the Michigan-Missouri matchup will face LSU next week.
On Saturday, Michigan was fueled by a three-run first inning and a two-run home run by junior Lindsay Montemarano. Megan Betsa (27-3) picked up her fourth straight win of the 2016 NCAA Championships.
Betsa, a junior All-American candidate, allowed three runs on seven hits while walking three and striking out six.
In last week’s Ann Arbor Regional, Betsa threw 10 scoreless innings against Valparaiso and Miami (Ohio) before allowing two runs on eight hits against Notre Dame.
In front of another sold-out crowd Saturday, Betsa struggled with some control issues at times — throwing 11 strikes on 23 pitches in the first inning and later throwing a few pitches behind a Mizzou batter — but gave the Wolverines what they needed.
Her support came early.
In the first — after a leadoff single by Sierra Lawrence, a walk drawn by Sierra Romero and a single by Kelly Christner — U-M sophomore Tera Blanco lined a two-run single up the middle.
Romero’s run scored in the first inning made here the first player in college softball history to score and drive in 300 runs in her career.
A few batters later, Montemarano took a pitch off her right arm with the bases loaded for a 3-0 lead.
Missouri pitcher Paige Lowary (25-7) managed to limit the damage, leaving the bases loaded to end the inning on a groundout by Abby Ramirez.
Lowary finished the day with seven hits allowed, three walks and three strikeouts.
Missouri’s Chloe Rathburn took an off-speed pitch over the left-center wall in the top of the third to cut Michigan’s lead to 3-2.
Montemarano delivered the insurance. Often a spark at the bottom of the Wolverines’ lineup, she pulled a two-out, two-run home run to left field to pad the lead.
The homer was Montemarano’s ninth of the year.
In the sixth, Betsa allowed a solo home run to Missouri’s Kristen Mack and flirted with more danger. With runners on first and third with two outs, Tigers senior leadoff hitter Taylor Gadbois ripped a line drive into center field, but put the ball on a rope to U-M’s Sierra Lawrence for the final out.
The gloves came in handy again soon after.
Following a leadoff walk in the top of sixth, Lawrence pulled in a blooping would-be single to center with a sliding catch in shallow center.
Missouri’s Amanda Sanchez followed with a line shot down to third, but saw it stabbed by Montemarano, who went for a force out at second.
Fittingly, Romero followed with a diving catch on a hit up the middle by Rathburn, and slapped the second-base bag for the final out of the day.
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