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Michigan Softball Falls To Minnesota In Big Ten Final; Still Gets #2 Seed In NCAAs

Today, we recap a tough loss to one of the nation's best pitchers, and look ahead to Michigan's path in the Regionals.

MGoBlog

First, let's go back in time - no, not to the tenth inning of the Big Ten Tournament Final, though we'll certainly talk about that. Let's go back to the inning before.

"We're past midnight. We're in the ninth. We're watching the two best teams in the Big Ten. {long pause} McGregor strikes out! Betsa now with double-digit strikeouts." On maybe her best pitch of the night, Michigan's Megan Betsa got Brandi McGregor with a 2-2 pitch up in the zone with great movement. There would be three more pitches before Betsa's night was over, and Sara Driesenga came on in the tenth.

Then, in the tenth, a one-out single. A stolen base. An error. And after a fabulous defensive play by Driesenga that was almost an inning-ending double play, this happened:

What had started as a stalemate between the Big Ten's two best pitchers ended in an inning where the ball barely left the infield. To be fair, that was probably the only way this game could have ended - it was, throughout, a testimonial on dependability, on patience, and how those things can hijack an opponent if they're not consistent enough with their talent. Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister called the Gophers' performance "gritty," a fitting description for a game where Michigan had so many opportunities to go for the jugular but couldn't land a fatal blow.

IP H R ER BB K BAA Pitches % Strikes
Megan Betsa

9.0 3 3 2 8 10 .096 179 62.0%
Sara Driesenga

0.2 1 1 0 0 1 .200 16 81.3%
Sara Groenewegen
10.0 9 3 2 2 11 .225 158 69.0%

In fact, let's go back a little bit further, to the second inning. The sun was still shining; it was a 1-1 game. Sara Driesenga was already warming up to potentially replace Betsa, after Betsa had struggled mightily in the first (all self-inflicted, too - a walk, a hit batter and a wild pitch allowed Minnesota to score a run). Three Gophers walked up to the plate in that second inning, and all three were retired. Strikeout, four pitches. Strikeout, five pitches. Strikeout, four pitches. Driesenga sat back down.

When Carol Hutchins was asked about Betsa's on-and-off performance, she sounded a little exasperated. "Megan is her (own) worst enemy. We told her after that (first) inning, she just needs to trust. Trust herself, trust the pitches. She starts drifting."

Betsa would continue to drift throughout the night. When Betsa was on, she was clearly a superior pitcher to Groenewegen. When she was off, though, she allowed Minnesota back into the ballgame. There were a lot of 'if's left on the field for Michigan - missed plays and bad bounces, wild pitches, tentative throws, an inch too short here, an inch too short there. The Wolverines committed four errors in a game where three would have likely meant victory.

And, on the flip side, there was Sara Groenewegen, who truly carried the Gophers to the tournament title: over a Saturday double-header, first against Northwestern and then against Michigan, Groenewegen threw 283 pitches while also getting a hit, two walks and 3 RBI from the clean-up spot. There aren't many softball pitchers with a sub-2.00 ERA and more than 200 innings on the season - in fact, just eleven total - but Minnesota's Sara Groenewegen is one of them and showed off that skill-set on Saturday. An ace and workhorse in equal measure, she tallied her 30th win of the year in 39 appearances. Ms. Consistency. Ms. Dependable.

Player Team IP ERA WHIP BAA K W-L
Kylee Hanson Florida Atlantic 209.2 0.73 0.62 .135 286 28-3
Hannah Haydel Nicholls St. 210.2 1.53 1.10 .193 149 23-8
Erica Nunn USF 208.1 1.65 1.10 .207 214 27-10
Randi Rupp Texas St. 245.0 1.66 0.96 .194 316 29-12
Devin Brown South Alabama 206.2 1.66 0.93 .165 324 20-12
Savannah Jo Dorsey Ohio 237.2 1.74 0.93 n/a 336 23-12
Baylee Douglas SIUE 227.1 1.85 1.10 n/a 149 18-12
Sara Groenewegen Minnesota 217.2 1.87 0.91
.189 313 30-5
Erin Seiler Akron 266.2 1.89 1.03 n/a 230 25-19
Brianna Jones Southern Illinois 207.1 1.92 1.02 .228 158 23-11
Mason Robinson Murray St. 232.2 1.99 1.09 .222 119 19-16
- - - - - - - -
Megan Betsa Michigan 155.0 1.99 1.12 .145 254 23-3
Sara Driesenga Michigan 128.0 2.13 1.19 .227 95 21-1

So, for Michigan, what now? The tournament title loss is disappointing, but not crippling, as evidenced by Michigan being given the #2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. (Florida, of course, got the #1 seed.) Obviously, Michigan needs to refocus, and they now have this week to do so. This team is better than what they showed on Saturday, and some more energy and focus will go a long way. A ten-inning game going past midnight, and ending because of two errors, showed that.

This upcoming Friday, the Wolverines will play host to Valparaiso, an 18-32 team that will probably be led by Taylor Weissenhofer, who is 10-12 on the year with a 4.12 ERA and a .248 batting average against. Assuming the Wolverines win, on Saturday they will face the winner of Notre Dame-Miami of Ohio. A loss on Saturday would make for a double-header; a win would push their final game of the Regionals to Sunday. We'll have more coverage this weekend as the outcomes help clarify Michigan's path to a Regional title.