For five innings, this was a pitchers’ duel, and then Lou Allan and Taylor Bump happened.
Allan and Bump went big with back-to-back home runs for Michigan in the top of the sixth inning to snap a scoreless game and lift the Wolverines to a 2-1 upset of host Washington Saturday night in a winner’s bracket game in the NCAA Tournament Seattle Regional at Husky Softball Stadium.
Junior Alex Storako, the Big Ten’s Pitcher of the Year, struck out 13 and gave up three hits and one run.
“I’ve seen her throw a lot of really great games this year, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her throw better,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “She was lights out.”
Michigan has the edge in the Regional, now at 2-0 including the win over Washington, the No. 16 overall seed. Both teams entered the NCAA Tournament miffed, Washington because as the Pac-12 runner-up expected a better seed, and Michigan because, as the Big Ten champion, was not made a Regional host and instead was sent West. Hutchins said last Sunday after the bracket reveal that the conference was “disrespected.”
“We’re not here to prove anything, we’re just here to win,” Hutchins said. “We want to advance, we want to keep playing. There’s no statements to be made. We know we’re a good team, we know they’re a good team.”
And then there was the friendly rivalry between Allan and Bump. Allan got her 11th home run of the season, tying Bump, who homered Friday night in the Wolverines’ first NCAA Tournament game, a 2-0 no-hitter by Meghan Beaubien against Seattle University. But then Bump followed her with a home run, her 12th of the season.
Both homered off Gabbie Plain, the Pac-12’s Pitcher of the Year, who was replaced in the top of the seventh by Brooke Nelson. Plain gave up five hits, two runs and had four strikeouts in six innings.
“Right before my at bat, she goes, ‘You know I’m ahead by one, right?’” Allan said, referring to Bump. “I was like, ‘I know, whatever, it’s fine.’ I went up there with that mindset, ‘I’m just going to get a base hit. I’m not going to try to beat Taylor, because if I try, it’s not gonna happen.’
“So then I hit mine, I came in, and she was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you tied me up, I guess it’s all right.’ And then she went up and hit her (homer), and she came into the dugout and I was like, ‘Really? You had to one up me?’ It’s a fun little back and forth that we do.”
The Wolverines are also having fun with what they call the “Slippery Snake”, an amusement for them hatched during a long Big Ten bus ride.
Initially, the slippery snake was their celebration for doubles or home runs, but now, if a pitcher retires a team in order, she gets the snake, and any big hit also enjoys the snake. In fact, a toy snake made its debut Saturday night in the dugout and was wrapped around the neck of whichever player earned the right.
“We love to have fun on this team, and we’re a bunch of goofballs,” Storako said. “And I can’t get enough of it.”
Allan laughed as she described how a team manager introduced the toy stuffed snake to the team Saturday.
“It’s just exciting because we want to pass it around to everybody on the team,” she said. “Everybody wants to put on that snake, because it’s a symbol of, ‘You’re doing great, we’re hitting the ball hard, we’re on top of it, we’re ready to go.’”
Storako’s only slip in the win was allowing a solo home run to Morganne Flores in the bottom of the sixth. She said she moved on and hit the reset button. In fact, she pitched that way all night, saying she didn’t look back, or look ahead and focused on taking her deep breath before each pitch to stay refreshed.
Michigan has a 2-0 lead in the Regional and the players are feeling good about their performances, first the Beaubien no-hitter, then Storako’s 13 strikeouts and the back-to-back home runs. The Wolverines entered the NCAA Tournament leading the nation in ERA.
So what has Michigan, which feels snubbed by the NCAA Selection Committee, proved?
“I think we proved we can play Michigan softball, and if the NCAA isn’t ready for that, then, we’re here,” Storako said.
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