For the second-consecutive season, the Michigan Wolverines put an end to the Arizona State softball team’s pursuit of a championship, winning the final game of the NCAA Tempe Regional Sunday, 5-4, and sending Dallas Escobedo’s hallowed career to the history books.
Back-to-back Michigan home runs in the top of the seventh from Sierra Lawrence and Taylor Hasselbach erased No. 9 seed ASU’s lead, and centerfielder Lyndsay Doyle jumped above the fence to rob Amber Freeman of what would be the walk-off homer on the game’s final out.
Michigan (45-14), which eliminated ASU in the Women’s College World Series a year ago, advances to meet No. 8 Florida State in the Tallahassee, Fla., Super Regional next weekend, while the Sun Devils (46-12-1) failed to qualify for the round of 16 for the first time since 2005, the year before Clint Myers became coach. The Sun Devils also snapped their streak of WCWS appearances at three.
“A tough day for us,” said first-year ASU coach Craig Nicholson. “We didn’t play badly, we didn’t get breaks when we needed to get breaks, we competed hard today, obviously, I feel terrible.”
This will be the 12th time in the past 14 years Michigan will be in the Super Regionals, winning the national championship in 2005, all under Carol Hutchins, who came to Ann Arbor in 1985.
“Congrats to Arizona State, I know how disappointed they are, I’ve been there,” Hutchins said. “Dallas Escobedo, what a fantastic career she’s had. We just hung tough and found a way to score more runs than them, and ultimately that’s the only thing that matters. I’ve seen a lot of fantastic softball in my day, and this definitely was a fantastic day.”
Michigan entered Sunday having to sweep both games against the Sun Devils and won the first 4-3.
In the second game, Escobedo (24-9) had a torturous first inning, loading the bases and twice walking home lead-off runners,Doyle and Nicole Sappingfield. Lindsay Montemarano popped out to end the inning with three left on base.
In the bottom of the first, ASU redeemed Escobedo, who had seven strikeouts, as Cheyenne Coyle scored on an error from third base, of which she reached on a Haley Steele two-out single.
Alix Johnson knotted it at 2-2 with a solo leadoff home run in the third, and after Freeman singled on a line drive, Steele hit a two-run shot to put ASU ahead 4-2.
Lawrence cut the lead to one on a solo home run with one out in the fifth, and after Sierra Romero, batting a nation-high .500, struck out to end the sixth, ASU was in position for a trip to the Sunshine State. Then came the consecutive home runs from Lawrence and Hasselbach to give the lead back to the Wolverines, 5-4.
“I was just trusting myself and made contact,” Hasselbach said.
Senior Bailey Wigness grounded out to start the bottom of the seventh for ASU. Then Johnson slid into first to stretch her ground ball to third into a single.
“Before my at-bat, it hit me that it might be the last at-bat potentially of my career,” Johnson said. “So that wasn’t the ideal hit I wanted, and I know that with my speed, I could potentially beat any ball in the infield, and I’ve never done that before in my entire career, so my emotions and instinct took the best out of me.”
After Coyle popped out for the second out, Freeman, the All-American junior catcher who leads ASU in hitting, brought the crowd to its feet for what looked like a two-run walk-off homer, but Doyle made the grab and soon a crowd of maize and blue engulfed the diamond.
“I knew it was a hard hit ball and it was make or break right there," said Michigan pitcher Haylie Wagner, who improved to 24-4. "As soon as she (Doyle) jumped up, I knew she had it."