The 2014-15 season was more than a disappointment for Michigan's three most popular sports -- with Michigan football, basketball, and ice hockey all failing to participate in the postseason in the same season for the first time since 1973 -- but Michigan softball -- the fourth-most popular sport -- is picking up the slack.
One night after No. 3 seed Michigan overpowered No. 14 seed Georgia, 10-3, in Game 1 of their best-of-three Super Regional series, the Wolverines eked past the Bulldogs, 7-6, in Game 2 to complete the sweep and advance to the Women's College World Series. This is the second time in the last three seasons and 11th time in the last 21 under head coach Carol Hutchins that Michigan will appear in the NCAA Women's College World Series.
Right fielder Kelsey Susalla and pitcher Haylie Wagner propelled Michigan to the Game 2 win. Susalla was 3-for-4, crossing the plate three times and tallying two RBI with a solo shot in the second inning and a double down the left field line in the fifth. Wagner contributed on the rubber and with the bat in her hands. She extinguished most of Georgia's threats, allowing two earned runs and seven hits in six innings while striking out six batters, and gave herself run support by launching a home run in the fourth.
Unlike last night in Game 1 when Michigan scored four first-inning runs and never looked back, it was Georgia that had the hot start in Game 2. The Wolverines went down 1-2-3 in the top half of the first before starting pitcher Megan Betsa, who dominated the Bulldogs with 10 strikeouts in the Game 1 win, surrendered a solo shot and a two-run line-drive home run to Georgia in the bottom half to put Michigan in an early 3-0 hole.
But Michigan didn't dig itself any deeper. Wagner relieved Betsa to get the final out of the first, and that's when Michigan's bats went to work. Susalla opened the top of the second with her bomb, and Michigan would score in all but one of the game's final six innings, posting seven runs and 10 hits, to take a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the seventh.
The last half-inning had its drama, though. A two-run, two-out Georgia home run cut Michigan's lead to just one, and the Bulldogs put the tying run on base when the next batter singled. Hutchins decided to make a change and reinserted Betsa to close out the game that she exited in the first inning. With a full count, Betsa forced the Georgia hitter to pop up to second baseman Sierra Romero, and the celebration at Alumni Field began.
Michigan is the first team to clinch their bid in the 2015 Women's College World Series. The eight-team, double-elimination tournament, which will decide the school that is crowned the NCAA softball champion, will begin on Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There, Michigan will try to win its second-ever national title.