In the spring of 1994, gas cost $1.11, When a Man Loves a Woman was dominating the box office, and the Michigan Wolverines softball team missed the NCAA Tournament.
Nearly thirty years later, the Wolverines haven’t missed the Dance once since, nor have they really ever been in danger of missing it. After a regular-season capping sweep at the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers however, Michigan now enters the Big Ten Tournament in an unfamiliar spot, needing a deep run to stave off the end of their historic NCAA Tournament streak.
Here’s how the weekend played out to put the Wolverines in this tumultuous position:
In the opening game of the regular season finale, neither Michigan nor Minnesota got the bats going for most of the game, with the Golden Gophers breaking the stalemate in their half of the fourth with a sacrifice fly that drove in Natalie DenHartog.
Minnesota blew the game wide open in their half of the sixth however, getting the best of Wolverines ace Lauren Derkowski with a pair of solo homers on the first three pitches of the inning, expanding their lead to 3-0 and running Derkowski out of the game.
Though the deficit was still a trim one for Michigan, they couldn’t get anything going in their final half inning and went down 1-2-3 to end the game. In total, the Wolverines only managed to get two knocks off Minnesota ace Autumn Pease, with Pease also not allowing a single walked batter.
With both teams’ aces on the bench to start Saturday’s contest, a test of bullpen strength quickly became a test of scoring ability. In just 1.2 innings pitched, Michigan pitcher Jessica LeBeau gave up an eye-watering nine runs — all of which earned — while Golden Gophers pitchers Jacie Hambrick and Bri Enter didn’t fare much better after giving up ten runs in a combined 3.1 innings pitched.
While the Wolverines brought Derkowski off the bench to staunch the bleeding, even their usual ace couldn’t keep the good times from rolling for Minnesota, as Derkowski took the loss with four runs given up in three innings of work. In contrast, Golden Gophers reliever Sydney Schwartz locked Michigan’s offense down to end the game, giving up just one hit in 3.2 innings pitched.
The final game of the season presented two opposing forces at work; the Wolverines desperately needed to stave off a sweep, while Minnesota was bent on giving their seniors a farewell unlike any other.
While the Golden Gophers drew first blood with an RBI-single in the bottom of the first, Derkowski was largely back to her ace-worthy standards, holding Minnesota to just two runs all game.
Unfortunately for the maize and blue, the offense still didn’t have an answer for Pease, finding it impossible to get a runner even in scoring position until it was much too late.
With a 10-13 conference record, the Wolverines drew the 10th seed in this year’s Big Ten Tournament, and begin their run to the postseason with a first round matchup against seventh seeded Penn State.
The draw wasn’t in Michigan’s favor however further down the line — two-seed Indiana awaits in the quarterfinals having unleashed an offensive barrage in their series sweep of the Wolverines two weekends ago.
The 2023 #B1GSoftball Tournament Bracket is set!— Big Ten Softball (@B1Gsoftball) May 7, 2023
12 Big Ten teams will make their way to Illinois' Eichelberger Field for this week's tournament (May 10-13) with all 11 games televised live on @BigTenNetwork and the @FOXSports app!
Michigan’s showdown with the Nittany Lions is slotted for Wednesday, May 10th, with first pitch at 2:30 pm EDT or thirty minutes following the end of Game 1. All rounds of the Big Ten Tournament will air on the Big Ten Network.