Sixth-seeded UW (45-11) now advances to the regional championship game on Sunday at 4 p.m. against the winner of Saturday’s late game between Michigan and Fresno State.
A leadoff home run from All-American Ali Aguilar and a three-run walkoff home run from Julia DePonte bookended No. 8 Washington’s 12-4 win over 18th-ranked Michigan on Saturday afternoon in the NCAA Division I Softball Seattle Regional.
Sixth-seeded UW (45-11) advances to the regional championship game Sunday at 4 p.m. against Michigan, which rebounded with a 4-0 win over Fresno State in the final game of the day.
Fresno State had temporarily stayed alive with a 7-0 win over Montana.
NCAA regional at Husky Softball Stadium, UW vs. Michigan, 4 p.m., ESPN2 (if UW loses, another title game will follow at 6:30 p.m.)
If Washington loses Sunday’s 4 p.m. game to Michigan, the same teams would play again at 6:30 for the right to advance to the Super Regionals.
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But even though the Huskies won after five innings for the second straight game because of the eight-run rule, there was a fair bit of drama in between.
For one, UW came to the plate already at a deficit when Michigan’s Kelly Christner hit a leadoff home run off Huskies pitcher Taran Alvelo — fresh off her first career no-hitter, against Montana the night before — to give the Wolverines (42-12-1) a 1-0 lead.
Aguilar then stepped up to face Michigan’s formidable Megan Betsa, a two-time Big Ten pitcher of the year with a 24-8 record, who had 13 strikeouts against Fresno State on Friday evening and entered the game against UW leading the country in strikeouts (389), while ranked sixth nationally with 11 shutouts on the season.
Betsa lasted just one-third of an inning against UW and was charged with her ninth loss of the year.
Leading off for the Huskies, Aguilar saw something she liked on a 3-2 pitch from Betsa and sent the ball soaring beyond the right-center field wall.
That got UW rolling. Sis Bates sneaked her way on base with a crafty bunt, and Morganne Flores sent a grounder between the shortstop and the third baseman to give the Huskies two runners in scoring position as Taylor Van Zee strode to the plate.
Fresh off a 2-for-3 performance, with two runs batted in and a triple the night before, Van Zee once again came up big for the Huskies, smacking a double off the right-field wall to score a pair of runs.
It also spooked the Wolverines.
With four hits and three runs next to UW’s name on the scoreboard, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins made a drastic change, pulling Betsa in favor of Tera Blanco. It marked Betsa’s earliest exit from a game this season.
Why yank her so early?
“Confidence,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. Or rather, lack thereof.
“You know your pitchers, you know your players. And you know when they’re throwing with confidence. It was our opinion that she wasn’t,” Hutchins said. “She’s better than that. We needed our ‘A’ Megan Betsa today to have a chance against a good team like Washington.”
In a performance reminiscent of their eight-run third inning against Montana on Friday night, the Huskies once again found some third-inning magic.
This time, UW scored five runs on six hits before Blanco finally managed to retire the side.
“I think we were ready for anything that came our way. … We had a game plan for both of them. Whoever is out there, we stuck with each other and the game plan,” said Van Zee, referring to Michigan’s early pitching change.
Van Zee and DePonte were the Huskies’ most productive hitters, each going 3 for 4 with three RBI.
Van Zee had two singles and a double, and DePonte finished off the Wolverines with her three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.
“Kudos to Washington,” Huchins said. “They were outstanding, relentless. They are a fantastic team and we needed to be better in all aspects of our game to have a chance.”
After struggling against UW, Betsa rebounded in a big way against Fresno State. She threw a no-hitter, striking out 13.