ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A pair of seniors made history as the University of Michigan softball team clinched an NCAA Regional crown with a 5-2 victory over Oklahoma in eight innings Sunday (May 21) at Alumni Field. Senior Grace Leutele (Sierra Vista, Calif./Buena) gave the Wolverines the lead on a two-run home run in the eighth, making her the second Wolverine in the program's history to reach 30 home runs in a career. Senior pitcher Jennie Ritter (Dexter, Mich./Dexter) added her name to the top of another Wolverine record, striking out 19 Sooner batters for the single-game school record.
Michigan rallied from a run down in the fifth to tie the score at 2-2 and neither team could scratch across another run in regulation. In the top of the eighth, Alessandra Giampaolo (Pasadena, Calif./Polytechnic) led off with a double to left and Leutele hit the game-winning home run to rightfield to make it 4-2. Junior Tiffany Worthy (Yorba Linda, Calif./Lutheran) added another run with long solo shot in the next at-bat to help send the Wolverines to the Super Regional.
Michigan (43-13) will travel to Knoxville, Tenn., to play No. 8 seed Tennessee in a best-of-three Super Regional on Saturday and Sunday (May 27-28) at Tyson Park. Game times are noon Saturday and 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (if necessary) Sunday, and all games will be televised by ESPN.
The Wolverines got on the board first in the fourth when Leutele hammered a double to the wall in left-center to score Samantha Findlay (Lockport, Ill./Lockport) from second base and put U-M up 1-0, but Oklahoma countered with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning on a bases-loaded single, making it 2-1 Sooners. Michigan knotted it up in the top of the fifth when Rebekah Milian (Grand Blanc, Mich./Grand Blanc) slapped an infield single to score Stephanie Bercaw (Wooster, Ohio/Hillsdale) from third and make it 2-2.
In the first inning, Milian hit a bloop single over the Sooner third baseman's head and stole second with two outs, but Oklahoma retired the side to escape the frame unscathed. Ritter sat down the first two batters on strikes and Findlay made a sparkling defensive play, tracking down a short popup to retire the side.
Giampaolo led off the second with a walk but a failed sacrifice attempt put Leutele on first with one out. Worthy successfully sacrificed Leutele to second in the next at-bat, but Bercaw bunted foul with two strikes to end the inning.
The Wolverines retired the side in the second with Ritter picking up two more strikeouts, but the Sooners responded in kind, setting down the Wolverines in order but paying a price in the process. After the second Wolverine out of the inning, Oklahoma first baseman Mariee Mena was hit in the face with a ball as the Sooners threw the ball around the infield, and she left the game after a 10-minute delay in the action.
Senior Becky Marx (St. Joseph, Mich./Lakeshore) battled through an eight-pitch at-bat in the fourth only to strike out on a changeup, but Findlay followed up with a double to the fence in leftfield to bring Giampaolo to the plate with one out. Giampaolo popped up to third on the first pitch, but Leutele fired a shot to the gap in left-center for a stand-up double, scoring Findlay and making it 1-0. Worthy fought through a 12-pitch at-bat with Leutele on second but flew out to center to end the frame.
Oklahoma leadoff batter Norrelle Dickson took the gift of a checked-swing single to start the bottom of the fourth, punching a ball between Ritter and Leutele for the Sooners' first hit of the game. The next batter flew out to right, but Oklahoma's leader in career hits, Kristen Vesely, singled through the right side to put a pair of runners on base with one out. A passed ball on the first pitch to the next batter advanced the runners to second and third, forcing the Wolverines to intentionally walk the bases loaded for OU's Savannah Long. Long sent a chopper up the middle in the first pitch of the next at-bat, scoring a pair to give Oklahoma a 2-1 lead and snapping Ritter's consecutive postgame shutout streak at 46.1 innings. Ritter mowed down the final two batters of the inning to put the clamps on the Sooners and get the Wolverines out of the inning.
Bercaw was robbed of a home run by OU centerfielder Vesely to lead off the fifth, sending a long fly ball to center which was knocked back into the park off the tip of Vesely's glove, allowing Bercaw to trot into second with a double. Bercaw stole third on the first pitch of the next at-bat, but the Sooners retired the next two batters in order to bring Milian to the plate. Milian slapped a sharp ball between the pitcher and the second baseman, scoring the tying run of the game. Milian stole her second base of the game, swiping second, but Marx lined out to the third baseman to end the inning.
Ritter continued to roll in the fifth, striking out the last two batters of the frame to keep the score knotted at 2-2.
Leutele dropped down a two-out bunt in the sixth and reached on a throwing error. She advanced to second on a passed ball, but Oklahoma pitcher D.J. Mathis struck out the final batter of the inning to keep it tied.
The Wolverines faced the heart of the Oklahoma order in the bottom of the sixth with Amber Spaulding dropping a single just inches inside the rightfield foul line to lead off and Vesely executing a perfect base-hit bunt in the next at-bat to put a pair of runners on with no outs. OU slugger Samantha Ricketts flew out to left for the first out of the stanza and Ritter punched out Long on strikes, but an inside pitch clipped Sooner batter Traci Dickenson to load the bases. In one of the most pivotal at-bats of the day, Ritter fanned Oklahoma catcher Susan Ogden on four pitches to send the game to the seventh.
Bercaw lost a nine-pitch battle to Mathis to lead off the top of the seventh and Teddi Ewing (Olathe, Kan./Olathe East) followed up by working the count full before blasting a sharp liner off Mathis' back and reaching base as the ball ricocheted to the third baseman. The OU training staff tended to Mathis during a 10-minute delay but she stayed in the game to face Tiffany Haas (North Tustin, Calif./Foothill) in the next at-bat. Haas fought off an inside pitch to bloop a single just inches inside the leftfield line, and Milian slapped a soft ball between Mathis and third base, giving Ewing enough time to slide into third and beat out the throw to load the bases. Mathis bore down, inducing Marx into a flyout to shallow leftfield and striking out Findlay to get out of the inning unscathed.
Ritter struck out the first two batters faced in the bottom of the seventh, but leadoff hitter Dickson drove a sharp single up the middle to reach base. Undeterred, Ritter stuck out Spaulding to finish off the frame.
Giampaolo led off the first frame of extra-innings with a leadoff double to leftfield and Leuetle drove her sixth home run of the season over the fence in right to make it 4-2 and move into sole possession of second place on U-M's all-time home runs list. Worthy homered over the bleachers in right-center in the next at-bat to put Michigan up 5-2 and chase Mathis from the contest.
Contact: Richard Retyi (734) 763-4423