Michigan is just two wins away from reaching the pinnacle of the softball world.
The Wolverines -- the national third seed -- edged past No. 5 LSU, 6-3, this evening to eliminate the Tigers in the NCAA Women's College World Series semifinals and advance to the Championship Series. Michigan entered this game with a 2-0 record in the WCWS, while LSU came in with a 2-1 record, and would have had two chances to beat the Tigers if necessary in this double-elimination tournament. However, a second game wasn't necessary as the Wolverines handled their business and got it done in the first game.
Michigan didn't need a second game to take out the Tigers because Sierra Lawrence came through in the clutch in the bottom of the sixth. With the bases loaded and one out in a 3-3 game, Lawrence squeezed a groundball just inside third base into left field. Two Wolverines crossed the plate, and Lawrence pulled up at second with a standing double.
Michigan didn't settle for a 5-3 lead, though. The Wolverines had runners on the corners with two outs when Sierra Romero, who was at first base, baited LSU into attempting to catch her stealing and purposely put herself in a pickle. While doing so, Lawrence, who was at third, ran home to pad Michigan's lead to three after six innings. Then, Haylie Wagner, who allowed only two hits in the final 3.1 innings, closed it out in the seventh.
Michigan's late-game theatrics were the difference in what was a close game throughout.
After a quiet first inning in which no batters reached base, LSU opened the scoring in the top of the second. Megan Betsa surrendered a walk and a single, putting the Tigers on the corners with one out. The next LSU batter, Constance Quinn, struck a Betsa pitch into center field. Lawrence hauled it in for the second out, but she was far too deep to make a play on Kellsi Kloss, who tagged up from third base on the sacrifice to give LSU a 1-0 lead. The Wolverines tried to answer the Tigers in the bottom half of the inning, but Michigan left the bases loaded when Abby Ramirez flied out to shallow left field.
But Michigan didn't need to wait much longer to knot the game up at one run apiece. With one out and no one on base in the third inning, Romero got a hold of Carley Hoover's 2-2 pitch and hit a bomb just inside of the left-field foul pole to make it 1-1:
Romero's solo shot was her 22nd home run of the season and 63rd of her career, giving her sole possession of Michigan's all-time mark that was held by Samantha Findlay.
LSU retook the lead in the top of the fourth, though. The Tigers had the bases loaded with two outs, but Betsa had LSU hitter Bailey Landry in an 0-2 hole. Nonetheless, Landry made solid contact on Betsa's next pitch and hit a double over the shortstop into left-center field, driving in two runs to give LSU a 3-1 lead. The Tigers still were threatening to score, with runners on second and third, but Wagner relieved Betsa and got out of the jam by blowing a fastball past Bianka Bell for the strikeout.
But, yet again, Michigan wasn't going to allow LSU to hold the lead for long. Lindsay Montemarano doubled off the left-field wall, and, with two outs, back-to-back singles by Tera Blanco and Ramirez, the first of which drove in Montemarano, put the Wolverines in position to tie the score. Carol Hutchins chose to pitch-run Nikki Ward for Blanco, and it paid off. Ward stole third base, and an errant throw that rolled into left field by the LSU catcher permitted Ward to stroll home to make it a 3-3 game after four innings.
Then Lawrence took care of the rest in the bottom of the sixth inning.
This is the second time in program history that Michigan softball will participate in the WCWS Championship Series. The first time was in 2005 when the Wolverines bested UCLA in Games 2 and 3 to capture the national championship. This time, Michigan will square off against Florida -- the national No. 1 seed in the tournament that is 3-0 in the WCWS as well. The Championship Series, which is a best-of-three series, begins tomorrow (Jun. 1st) night at 8:00 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN2. Don't miss it.