The Michigan softball team headed west to Lincoln, Nebraska for a three game series against the Cornhuskers on the weekend of April 26-28. Coach Carol Hutchins and her Wolverines came into the series in first place in the Big Ten conference, with a four game lead over the second place Nebraska squad. Michigan could clinch the Big Ten regular season title with at least two wins over the Cornhuskers.
Game one got under way at 6 pm on Friday evening, with Michigan’s Sara Driesinga on the mound against Nebraska’s Tatum Edwards. After a scoreless first inning, the Cornhuskers tallied a pair of runs in the second and added another in the third, which led Michigan to replace Driesenga with Haylie Wagner. Wagner fared no better, allowing another three runs to Nebraska over the next two frames. Meanwhile, the Michigan bats were mostly silent as the Nebraska defense held them in check.
Michigan catcher Lauren Sweet smacked a solo home run in the top of the sixth, but it was way too little, way too late and Michigan’s perfect conference record was perfect no more. The Wolverine offense managed only one other hit besides Sweet’s round tripper, which was not nearly enough to get the win.
Haylie Wagner got the start at pitcher in Saturday’s second game of the series, as the Wolverines looked for some redemption. Once again, neither team scored in the first inning, and once again Nebraska took a 2-0 lead in the second. The Cornhuskers added another score in the fifth and once again it was looking dire for the Maize and Blue.
Lauren Sweet drove in a run in the top of the sixth to get Michigan on the scoreboard and make it a 3-1 game. Michigan’s defense held Nebraska in the bottom half of the sixth, and on to the final frame of regulation the game proceeded. It was do or die time for Michigan.
Jaclyn Crummey drew a walk to get things started for the Wolverines, and Sierra Romero was given a free pass by the Nebraska pitcher. Caitlin Blanchard followed with another base on balls, loading the bases for Ashley Lane. Lane singled, bringing in Crummey to make it 3-2 and leaving the bases jammed for Sierra Lawrence. A single by Lawrence got Romero home with the tying run. Next, Amy Knapp reached first base, but Blanchard was thrown out at home. The bases remained loaded as Sweet came to bat. On a full count, Sweet came through with a big hit, bringing both Lawrence and Lane home and giving the Wolverines a 5-3 lead. A double play ended the inning, but Michigan’s offense did what they needed to do. The Wolverine D shut the door in the bottom of the seventh and the series was now even.
Wagner once again got the pitching start on Sunday for the series finale. She and the Michigan defense held the Cornhuskers scoreless for the first three frames, and the Wolverine offense staked the team to a 4-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth.
From there on, though, it was all Nebraska as the home team rallied to win the game 7-4, and the series two games to one.
Despite the disappointing weekend results, Michigan still is in first place in the Big Ten with a conference record of 17-2. Their overall record of 41-9 is also best in the conference. Wisconsin has snuck into second place with a conference record of 15-5 while Nebraska is in third at 14-5. Because of the often crazy weather in the Midwest, games sometimes get cancelled and it is often the case that not all teams end up playing the same number of league games.
The last weekend of the regular season will be this coming weekend, May 3-5. It is basically a three team race in the Big Ten now, with Michigan leading the way and Wisconsin and Nebraska still in contention. Michigan plays three games at home against Northwestern, Wisconsin has a three game homestand against Michigan State, while Nebraska heads east for three against Penn State. Michigan “controls their own destiny” as they say, and only needs to win one of three against Northwestern to win the Big Ten regular season championship and the top seed in the conference tournament. Which will involve another trip to Lincoln, as Nebraska is hosting that event.