It was often repeated this week that the Michigan Wolverines softball team needed a deep run in this year’s Big Ten Tournament to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their time in the conference tourney came as far from a deep run as you can get — being bounced out of the first round following a 3-2 loss to the Penn State Nittany Lions.
With two of the conference’s aces in Michigan’s Lauren Derkowski and the Nittany Lions’ Bailey Parshall facing off, both teams knew runs would be at a higher premium than normal on Wednesday afternoon. A bang-bang play at first was the difference between an inning ending double play and a 1-0 lead in the top of the second, head coach Bonnie Tholl wasted no time in challenging the call. It was a smart decision, as video review showed Ryleigh Carricaburu clearly reaching the base before the catch, giving the Wolverines the first run of the contest.
T2: Wolverines strike first! Mataya leads off with a single scores from second on a fielder's choice. Originally called an inning-ending double play, Michigan overturns the call on replay, and the run is good.— Michigan Softball (@umichsoftball) May 10, 2023
Michigan 1, Penn State 0 pic.twitter.com/2tX3m7aLMo
Though Penn State’s Kaitlyn Morrison gave Derkowski and the Wolverines a scare with a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth, Michigan was more successful in their attempt at chasing the opposing ace out of the game the next half inning — capping their most productive inning of the game off with an RBI-single from Ellie Mataya to take back the lead.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the offense struggled to keep the momentum in their corner, and the Nittany Lions took advantage. In the bottom of the sixth, Derkowski gave up two hits, including a double, in three pitches — putting both the tying and winning runs in scoring position with no outs. While a sacrifice fly from Penn State’s Lexie Black tied things back up at two runs a piece, Derkowski recovered well, stranding the winning run at third with an inning ending pair of strikeouts.
In a heartbreaking twist of fate, it wasn’t a hit that did Michigan in, but a bizarre error. After a walk of the initial Nittany Lions batter Lilia Crouthamel, Melody Coombs weakly laid down a bunt that bounced straight to Carricaburu at third base. In what would’ve certainly been a double play, the throw from Carricaburu soared over shortstop Ella McVey’s head — resulting in the ball rolling all the way to the outfield wall. By the time Mataya found it in center field, Crouthamel managed to make it all the way home, ending the game and likely Michigan’s season.
1️⃣-0️⃣— Penn State Softball (@PennStateSB) May 10, 2023
FINAL | PSU 3, MICH 2#WeAre pic.twitter.com/ptgNZeJcuU
While nothing is impossible, the Wolverines entered Wednesday ranked 48 in the NCAA’s RPI, well beyond the usual spectrum for an at-large bid. Any miracles will be revealed on Sunday night when the brackets are revealed live on ESPN2 at 7 pm EDT.