Softball: 13 innings not enough at Michigan

Adam Fusfeld

The Big Ten tournament could come down to a coin flip.

When No. 12 Northwestern defeated Penn State on Friday and Saturday, and No. 6 Michigan took care of business in two games against Michigan State, the stage was set for a pair of confrontations between the two 15-1 teams atop the conference standings.

The Wildcats won the first game 2-1 behind three hits by junior catcher Erin Dyer and seven innings of great pitching by sophomore Lauren Delaney. With the win, NU stood alone atop of the conference standings for a couple of hours.

The Cats took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning of the second game thanks to sophomore Nicole Pauly’s third home run of the weekend. But the Wolverines loaded the bases for the second straight inning in the bottom of the seventh and finally got to Delaney on a walk-off single by senior Samantha Findlay for a 3-2 victory.

“Clearly everyone’s disappointed with the last inning of the doubleheader at Michigan,” Drohan said. “But Lauren Delaney really stepped up and did a great job this weekend.”

The two conference titans finished where they started – tied for first. But NU had plenty of work to set up the dramatic Sunday doubleheader in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Cats kicked off the weekend with a 14-inning marathon against the Nittany Lions on Friday and came away with a 1-0 victory thanks to a double by freshman Michelle Batts that scored Tammy Williams.

“Every inning is fun,” coach Kate Drohan said. “But I think at that point we just had to focus and push a run across, and it took us a long time to do that.”

The second game of that series was played Saturday, and though it was not nearly as long, it was just as wild. NU took a 5-1 lead into the sixth inning, but a Penn State rally tied the game. Pauly put the Cats back on top with her second home run of the game, lifting the team to a 6-5 victory.

Delaney pitched all 21 innings of the series and was dominant through the first 19.

She struck out 18 Nittany Lions in the first game, and allowed just four hits on her way to the 14-inning shutout. In the second game she pitched five innings of one-run ball, before allowing four more runs to score in the sixth – her ninth time facing the Penn State hitters on the weekend. Delaney struck out the side in the seventh to complete the series sweep.

“I’m sure going through the lineup so many times has a little bit to do with it,” Delaney said about the runs Penn State scored in the sixth inning. “The more you see somebody the easier it is (to get hits), so that probably contributed to it.”

NU finished the weekend tied with Michigan for the top spot in the Big Ten at 16-2. Because both teams lost to Iowa and split the series with each other, all the tiebreakers are even. If the two squads win their last two conference games this weekend, they will share the Big Ten crown and be subject to a coin flip to decide who gets to host the conference tournament.

“We worked this hard all season and it would be a little disappointing for it to come down to that,” Delaney said. “Then again if we just finished off the second game we could have avoided that.”

The Cats are now 32-11 on the season, and have four games remaining on their schedule. Though they played well against Michigan, one of the best teams in the country, Drohan said the team is disappointed that it couldn’t finish off the sweep.

“What I like about this team is their focus is on how they can get better, because 13 out of 14 innings isn’t good enough for this group,” she said. “That’s a really important message for us. A lot of people would walk away from Michigan happy with a split, but we’re saying 13 out of 14 innings is just not good enough for us. That’s how driven this group is.”

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