The last time the Michigan Wolverines took the field, a 10-inning saga ensued between the Big Ten's two best teams. But on Friday night, the Horizon League Champ proved to be no match for the #2 team in the NCAA tourney - after five anticlimactic innings of work, Valparaiso fell quietly, 8-0, in a game that was shortened by the mercy rule.
Michigan got the drubbing started in the first, thanks to a solo shot by Sierra Romero. That home run marked the 300th RBI of her career, moving her into sole possession of fourth place on the all-time NCAA list. Michigan added two more in the second on a pair of doubles and a single by Abby Ramirez.
It wouldn't be until the fifth that the bats really came alive, though. Abby Ramirez singled up the middle on a 2-0 count, then Sierra Lawrence put together a good swing that got one through the left side. Sierra Romero got one over the head of Valparaiso pitcher Taylor Weissenhofer for her 301st career RBI and a 4-0 lead.
Two more singles later, and Weissenhofer's night was done. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, relief pitcher Ashlyn Montgomery could not find the strike zone - giving three straight walks over fourteen pitches to end the game. With the mercy rule invoked, Michigan moved into the winner's bracket of the Regionals while also resting all their players. They will play the Miami RedHawks tomorrow at noon at Alumni Field.
But, for all the big bats, the star of the show was undoubtedly Megan Betsa, who finished the game with one hit, one walk, and nine strikeouts over sixteen batters. She carried a no-hitter into the fourth, which was broken up by the game's only Valparaiso hit: a swinging bunt down the first base line. She struck out seven of the first nine batters and looked dominant all night.
A little more preparation may have helped: Megan spent time this week practicing with a smaller strike zone to help her focus on the right pitch placement, and that move paid off big on Friday. Her pitches still rose in the strike zone occasionally, but she spent most of the evening dotting the bottom part of the plate with changing speeds. And when she did go up in the zone, hitters couldn't catch her. The number of swings and misses by Valparaiso hitters tonight was very impressive.
And, with that, the team needs to turn around and do it again, as the second game of the Regionals will pit the Wolverines against the Miami RedHawks, 35-21 on the year and 3-2 winners on Friday over Notre Dame. The Hawks will likely turn to Amber Logemann (2.38 ERA, 24-12) despite 132 pitches from the senior on Friday. They will also lean on a top-heavy part of the order led by Taylor Shuey (.378 avg, .651 SLG%), Michaela Schlattman (.339 avg, .588 SLG%), and Johniann Wahl (.312 avg, 47 RBI). Michigan will turn to either Megan Betsa (1.93 ERA, 24-3) or Sara Driesenga (2.13 ERA, 21-1).