By Kevin Brockway
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Timely hitting, solid pitching, and a clutch defensive play led top seed Michigan to its 10th Big Ten Softball Tournament title in school history.
The Wolverines jumped to an early lead and held on to beat Minnesota 3-2 in the Big Ten Tournament finals on Saturday afternoon at Andy Mohr Field.
“This is one of the sweetest days I’ve seen,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “Watching this team do what it’s done this year and winning this tournament if you would have asked me before the year, I wanted to win the Big Ten Tournament. I could not be more pleased.”
The question now becomes whether Michigan (43-11) has done enough to host an NCAA Tournament regional.
“We’ve done the best we can,” Hutchins said. “There are a lot of really great teams out there who have had great years. We’re one of them, but it’s not to up to us.”
Certainly, the Wolverines helped their cause this weekend.
Michigan got on the scoreboard first with an RBI double from Madison Uden in the fourth inning, then tacked on two more runs in the fifth, going up 3-0 after a pinch-hit RBI double from Lou Allan and RBI groundout from Natalie Peters.
But following a 22-minute rain delay, Minnesota rallied in the bottom of the sixth. First baseman Hope Brander led off the inning with a home run, cutting Michigan’s lead to 3-1. Then, after a single by designated hitter Natalie DenHartog, catcher Emma Burns came within a few feet of tying the game, lining a double to left field more than halfway up the left field wall.
DenHartog then scored on a sacrifice fly to cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-2. That sent to the plate the third baseman Katelyn Kemetmueller, with the tying run on second base. Kemetmueller belted a low line drive to left field, but Michigan left fielder Lexie Blair made a diving catch as the ball was sinking away from her, ending the inning and preserving Michigan’s lead.
B6: Blair comes up with the diving grab in LF to get out the inning and preserve the 3-2 Wolverine lead.— Michigan Softball (@umichsoftball) May 11, 2019
Due up: Hoogenraad, Rodriguez, Canfield pic.twitter.com/rLGpZ3BW3X
“I just felt like I had a good jump to it and I was confident it wasn’t going to get by,” Blair said. “Really just the read off the bat really helped.”
Pitcher Meghan Beaubien (28-4) pitched five innings to earn the win for Michigan and was named most outstanding player of the tournament. Beaubien went 3-0 with a 1.26 ERA in tournament play.
Minnesota (41-12) had its string of three straight Big Ten Tournament titles snapped.
Minnesota 4, Northwestern 0
Junior righty Amber Fiser fired a four-hit shutout and matched a career high with 13 strikeouts, lifting Minnesota to victory. Fiser overpowered Northwestern throughout the game, striking out the side in the first, third and fifth innings.
Minnesota jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run homer from first baseman Hope Brander. The Golden Gophers extended their lead to 3-0 in the third inning on a Katelyn Kemetmueller solo home run.
Minnesota scored its final run of the game in the sixth when Natalie DenHartog led off the inning with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice, moved to third on a groundout and scored on an error by Northwestern third baseman Mac Dunlap.
Northwestern (43-10) had runners on first and second with two outs in the sixth, but Fiser induced a Jordyn Rudd ground out to third to end the threat.
Michigan 8, Wisconsin 3
The Wolverines jumped to a quick 5-0 lead and pounded out 15 hits to reach the Big Ten Tournament finals since 2016.
Second baseman Faith Canfield sparked Michigan’s offense from the leadoff spot, going 4 for 4 with two runs scored.
B5: Wolverines get one back on a crazy play after Canfield's single to CF -- her 4th hit today. Throw home takes a wild bounce, and Rodriguez stutter steps then dives in to score.— Michigan Softball (@umichsoftball) May 11, 2019
Michigan 8, Wisconsin 3 pic.twitter.com/qlObhcT5d6
Canfield led off the game for Michigan with a single, then scored on an RBI double from center fielder Natalie Peters. First baseman Alex Sobczak delivered an RBI single later in the inning, putting Michigan up 2-0.
Michigan added two more runs in the second inning on an RBI single by right fielder Haley Hoogenraad and a bases loaded walk from Lexie Blair.
After a solo homer by Wisconsin catcher Taylor Johnson cut Michigan’s lead to 5-1 in the top of the fourth. Blair answered with a two-RBI double in the bottom of the inning, extending Michigan’s lead back to 7-1.
Wisconsin (40-12) cut Michigan’s lead to 7-3 in the fifth on a bases loaded two-RBI double by first baseman Kayla Konwent. But Beaubien worked out of the jam by getting Johnson to pop out to end the inning.
Beaubien (27-4) allowed a run on five hits and struck out eight in seven innings to earn the win.
Michigan’s bats showed life after scoring just one on seven hits in a 1-0 win over Illinois in the Big Ten quarterfinals on Friday.
“We were freer, loser,” Hutchins said. “Faith started the game with a ball and Natalie was just right on time with that. It woke us up, it sparked us.”
Big Ten All-Tournament Team
Meghan Beaubien, P, Michigan
Lexie Blair, OF, Michigan
Faith Canfield, OF, Michigan
Natalie Peters, OF, Michigan
Amber Fiser, P, Minnesota
Hope Brander, 1B, Minnesota
Katelyn Kemetmueller, 3b, Minnesota
Taylor Johnson, C, Wisconsin
Kayla Konwent, 1B, Wisconsin
Melanie Cross, OF, Wisconsin
Danielle Williams, P, Northwestern
Jordyn Rudd, C, Northwestern.