Michigan softball eliminated from NCAA tournament with 9-4 loss to UCF

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After so many weather delays and extra innings over the weekend, Michigan softball’s NCAA tournament run ended with a sudden thud Sunday afternoon as the Wolverines lost, 9-4, to No. 16-seed UCF in the Orlando regional.

U-M needed 11 innings to lose its regional opener to UCF, on Friday, after giving up runs in the sixth and seventh innings. Sunday, the pain came much earlier, as the Knights scored three runs in the first inning off Meghan Beaubien. UCF singled, had a batter reach on a botched fielder’s choice, and then singled again with one out to load the bases. Beaubien came back with a strikeout of Ashleigh Griffin for the second out, but then things got wild. Literally — Beaubien walked Maddie Bejarano (who drove in the winning run Friday afternoon) on four straight pitches to send home a run, then walked Johneisha Rowe on five pitches.

University of Michigan's pitcher Alex Storako (8) winds up against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game Saturday, May 14, 2022. Nebraska won in extra innings 3-1.
University of Michigan's pitcher Alex Storako (8) winds up against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game Saturday, May 14, 2022. Nebraska won in extra innings 3-1.

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That was enough for coach Carol Hutchins, who brought in relief ace Annabelle Widra. Unfortunately for U-M, Widra had command issues, too, walking Justene Molina on four straight pitches for the third run of the inning. The freshman eventually retired UCF’s Micaela Macario on a flyout to left, but the Wolverines were in a hole early.

It grew deeper in the third, as Griffin launched Widra’s third pitch of the inning beyond the left-field fence to make it 4-0. Bejarano singled on the second pitch she saw, and that was it for Widra, relieved by Lauren Derkowski, a fellow freshman. Derkowski, however, wasn’t much more effective, walking Rowe before getting her lone out on a sac bunt. Hutchins then turned to Alex Storako, the senior who struck out 12 over seven innings in the Wolverines’ first game of the day, a 4-1 win over South Dakota State.

But Storako struggled, too, walking Macario on five pitches to load the bases. After a grounder to third got Bejarano on a force at home for the second out, Storako plunked Kennedy Searcy on a 3-1 count to drive in the Knights’ fifth run.

It was all UCF would need, despite U-M answering with two runs in the bottom of the third and another in the bottom of the fifth. UCF then cam back with three more runs in the top of the sixth off Storako.

Two of Michigan’s first three runs were unearned after an UCF error, as starter Gianna Mancha scattered five hits and four walks, with five strikeouts over 5⅓ innings. When the Wolverines got runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the sixth, Knights coach Cindy Ball-Malone turned to Kama Woodall in relief; Woodall pitched all 11 innings of the Knights’ win over U-M on Friday, and was nearly as effective Sunday. She quickly picked up a fielder’s choice at second, then struck out Kristina Burkhardt to end the threat.

After UCF tacked on another run in the top of the seventh, U-M attempted one final rally, with Audrey LeClair reaching on an error to open the inning and Lexie Blair, the team’s leading hitter, singling to left. After a fielder’s choice left runners on first and third with one out, Taylor Bump singled to drive in LeClair. But Woodall was unfazed; she induced a groundout to first from Melina Livingston, then got freshman Ellie Sieler to line out to short to end the Wolverines’ NCAA run in the regional final for the fifth straight time (excepting 2020, when there was no NCAA tournament).

Michigan hasn’t reached the super regional round since 2016, also the Wolverines’ most recent trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan softball eliminated from NCAA tournament with 9-4 loss to UCF