EVANSTON, Ill. -- If each of the last two games in the series between the University of Wisconsin softball team and the Michigan Wolverines is any indication of how future matchups will play out, the Big Ten may be in for one of the more entertaining rivalries in recent history.
Despite a solo home run from freshman Chloe Miller in the top of the seventh inning that gave UW a 3-2 lead, Michigan escaped with a 4-3 win Saturday thanks to a two-run outburst in the bottom of the frame. That included the game-winning RBI from Caitlin Blanchard that pushed the Wolverines into the conference title game at Sharon J. Drysdale Field on Saturday.
With the semifinal game tied at 2-2, Miller led off the seventh inning by sending a 1-1 pitch to deep center field for a solo home run, her 10th longball of the season. Miller’s blast helped Wisconsin regain the lead and put the pressure on Michigan to extend or end the game in the bottom half of the final inning.
The Wolverines answered the call, as Blanchard singled to left field, sending Nicole Sappingfield home for the game-winning run.
“I’m proud of the Big Ten,” UW head coach Yvette Healy said. “That’s the biggest takeaway. I have so much pride playing and coaching in this conference with how good the teams are.
“Northwestern is phenomenal and you look at Michigan and you look at Minnesota and it’s just stacked.”
The Badgers used some aggressive batting early on to take the lead in the top of the first inning.
Mary Massei sent a first-pitch fastball out of the park, homering to right field and scoring Stephanie Peace to give UW a 2-0 advantage. Michigan countered with a two-run third inning, as Sierra Romero tied the game with an RBI home run off of Badgers pitcher Cassandra Darrah.
A solid outing for Darrah, which included just four hits and three strikeouts in four innings pitched, was overshadowed by Michigan’s walk-off win in the seventh inning.
“I thought she was really composed,” Miller said of Darrah. “She keeps her cool the moment she steps in until the moment we’re off the field. You never see any emotion if she’s mad or (just gave up a homer). You’d never know because there’s no change of emotion.”
Darrah relieved UW’s starting pitcher, Taylor-Paige Stewart, in the top of the third inning. Stewart struck out one batter in two innings pitched, while giving up three hits.
Wisconsin will now look to the 2014 NCAA Women’s College World Series Selection Show, which is slated to begin at 9 p.m. (CT) on Sunday and airs live on ESPNU, to learn its NCAA tournament fate.
“I’m really pleased with how we played the season out,” Healy said. “I think we put together some great wins and I’m happy with how the team battled.
“I think we did everything we could to put ourselves in the best position (to earn a berth in the tournament).”