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Michigan wins to force decisive game with Arizona State in NCAA softball

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Home runs from Sierra Romero and Caitlin Blanchard allowed Michigan to defeat Arizona State, 4-3, and set up a deciding final game in the NCAA Softball Tempe Regional Sunday.

Coming off a 9-1 win over San Diego State in their first elimination game late Saturday, the Wolverines (45-13) needed to defeat the Sun Devils (46-11-1) twice Sunday to advance to the Super Regional next weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. The final game will be played later in the day Sunday.

Designated as the road team, the Sun Devils took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, when Cheyenne Coyle sent her team-leading 13th home run of the season into a collision with a cherry picker supporting a TV camera behind left field, also scoring Alix Johnson.

The Wolverines answered right back in the bottom of the first, as Romero, leading the NCAA with a .500 batting average and fresh from a 5-RBI night versus the Aztecs, hit her 18th home run, a two-run shot with one out.

In the bottom of the third, Romero walked on a full count and two outs, and she was driven home on Blanchard’s fourth of 2014.

Chelsea Gonzales, the freshman who has been the star of the postseason so far for ASU, hit her third home run in three games, taking the first pitch she saw over the fence in the top of the fourth. Johnson just missed the chance to tie the game with two outs, dropping one inches shy of the left field fence.

ASU’s final attempt to close out Michigan fell short in the seventh. Bailey Wigness reached first on a promising bunt, but she was out at second on a Johnson single. The second and third outs were near mirror images of the first, as Coyle and Amber Freeman both grounded out to third.

Dallas Escobedo (24-8) threw four strikeouts for ASU, and Haylie Wagner (23-4) replaced Megan Betsa on the mound for Michigan after just four batters, one of which being Coyle’s home run.