OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- The No. 1-ranked University of Michigan softball team defeated two-time defending champion No. 7 seed UCLA 4-1 in 10 innings to claim the teams' first-ever national championship tonight (Wednesday, June 8) in front of a national television audience on ESPN. The Wolverines (65-7) claimed the 52nd national championship in school history and the second for a women's program when WCWS MVP Samantha Findlay (Lockport, Ill./East HS) connected for a dramatic three-run home run in the top of the 10th to break a 1-1 tie.
Merchant was one of four Wolverines selected for the WCWS all-tournament team.
The Wolverines took the lead for good in 10th after Tiffany Haas (Santa Ana, Calif./Foothill HS)
reached on an error and Alessandra Giampaolo (Pasadena, Calif./Polytechnic HS)
legged out an infield single. One batter later, Findlay turned on a 1-1 pitch and deposited in the same place as Becky Marx (St. Joseph, Mich./Lakeshore HS)
a night before to give Michigan a 4-1 lead.
Running on fumes, Jennie Ritter (Dexter, Mich./Dexter HS)
gutted out a complete-game, 119-pitch effort, striking out only four but holding the Bruins to just five hits. An error was the only glitch in the bottom of the 10th as Ritter struck out one before shortstop Jessica Merchant (Wayland, Mich./Wayland HS)
squeezed the final out of the championship on a popout.
UCLA jumped out to a 1-0 lead for the second straight night in the second inning when Lisa Dodd gave an 0-1 pitch a ride over the outstretched arm of Rebekah Milian (Grand Blanc, Mich./Grand Blanc HS) into the leftfield stands.
UCLA kept the pressure on in the third inning when Andrea Duran got the inning started with a line drive past a diving Haas. After UCLA's second failed sacrifice attempt of the day, Caitlin Benyi was called out for batter interference when she stood on top of the plate as Marx attempted to throw out a stealing Duran. It was the first of several jams Ritter would pitch her way through.
In the fourth, Findlay looked to turn another slow start for the Wolverine offense into a big inning. The freshman first basemen hit a line drive to centerfield for a double. Henry sprawled out to make the grab but came up short, allowing Findlay to get to second. Anjelica Selden was able to buckle down and end the threat.
With their outs remaining at a premium in the sixth inning, the Wolverines finally got on the board and threatened to break the game open. Tiffany Haas (Santa Ana, Calif./Foothill HS) came through with her second hit to lead off the inning and moved up on a walk by Giampaolo and a single from Merchant. Findlay then provided the first of her four RBI on the evening with a shot throught the right side. Although the bases remained juiced with nobody out, Michigan could not push across the go-ahead run thanks in large part to a great defensive play by Andrea Duran to grab Nicole Motycka's (Sarasota, Fla./Cardinal Mooney HS) line drive and double Giampaolo off third.
Ritter seemed to get a boost from Michigan pushing a run across, as she came out and struck out her first batter of the night the following inning.
Neither team really threatened as evening moved to night and the contest reached extra innings. The ninth inning was different, though, as the series-clinching run sat 60 feet away in Bruin Jaisa Crepes. Crepes ran for Krista Dedmon, who hustled out a leadoff double that bounced off the end of Giampaolo's glove. Ritter escaped unscathed on an infield popout to Haas at second base and then, after a walk to load the bases, a ground ball to Leutele at third for the final out.
Ritter's toughness made the 10th inning possible, and Findlay's drive over the leftfield fence made her the first freshman position player to earn WCWS MOP honors. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Merchant, Ritter and Stephanie Bercaw (Wooster, Ohio/Hillsdale HS).
Contact: Rich Marion (734) 763-4423