It was going to be a blowout in the first. A runaway. A ring-a-ding-ding, they used to call it. Michigan loaded the bases with no outs, then got three runs across home plate. Missouri's starting pitcher Paige Lowary was flustered, and one more hit in that inning would probably have driven her from the game. But she escaped, somehow, with a 3-0 deficit and a half-inning to collect her thoughts. Lowary would settle down in the next few innings, and she made it through to the end of the game.
Whenever Michigan got in a blow, Missouri responded well. When Missouri found a bit of momentum, Michigan took it back. Few people, perhaps, would look at this game and immediately want to call it a perfect outing by Carol Hutchins' Wolverines. A drag-out fight, more like. But it was perfect, too.
No, not a blowout. That wasn't in the cards today - Missouri was just too good. It wasn't pretty, either. And it certainly didn't feel like this series would end easily and simply tomorrow afternoon. But today, it was perfect.
Michigan's lineup is one of the deadliest in the nation, and they showed that in spades. They also played unbelievable softball on the defensive side, too. There was a lunging catch by first baseman Tera Blanco in the fifth, and a sliding grab by center fielder Sierra Lawrence in the sixth - against Missouri's deadliest hitter, Emily Crane. The game almost ended on a double play that would have been worthy of Sports Center. Alas, Chloe Rathburn just barely beat out the throw to first.
They played focused. When the going got tough, they got going. It'd be easy to point out how Lindsay Montemarano came through with a two-run shot in the fifth after Missouri made it a 3-2 game, or how Megan Betsa fought through a pair of home runs to finish off the Tigers herself in the seventh. But there were also littler things - a ground ball that Sierra Romero ran out and turned into a single, a pitch that hit Tera Blanco in the back but didn't keep her out of the game for long, purposeful swings up and down the line-up, and a whole lot of great defense from Aidan Falk. This was a gritty, enthralling performance by Michigan's women.
This team is noticeably better than it was last week. They played together, they played determined, and yes, they played in a dog fight. Talent will always be on Michigan's side. But today, the hustle and grit were, too. That's perfect.