ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Matte Haack stood in the dugout, her arms crossed and resting on the railing. She watched as the Michigan softball team ran around the field, celebrated with fans, dumped Gatorade on its seniors and danced to the school’s fight song.
Even as her teammates packed up, left the dugout and wept, Haack stuck around to watch what could have been.
After wining the first game in dominant fashion, Louisiana-Lafayette fell 2-1 in the finale of the best-of-three Super Regional on Saturday to end its season. The Ragin’ Cajuns (47-15) had won Saturday’s first matchup 5-0 to force a winner-take-all rubber game.
Michigan (50-10) is back in the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2009.
“This stings right now,” ULL coach Michael Lotief said. “It’s going to sting them for a little bit, but when they walk away from it, they’re going to be proud, and I’m certainly proud right now.”
It stung after ULL suffered through flashbacks of its Friday loss. Michigan’s Ashley Lane connected on a two-run double in the fifth inning that was the difference; in Friday’s matchup, Lane hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning for a 4-3 victory.
The Cajuns almost escaped with the score tied at 1: The throw home to catcher Sarah Draheim was up the third-base line, and she just missed putting a tag on a sliding Caitlin Blanchard. Draheim had scored ULL’s only run an inning earlier when freshman Shellie Landry knocked a single up the middle.
The fourth was Michigan pitcher Sara Driesenga’s only slip-up. The sophomore returned to form following a disastrous Game 2 to allow four hits and strike out seven.
Driesenga entered Game 2 for Haylie Wagner in the fourth inning but quickly gave up a solo home run to Draheim and a two-run blast to Sara Corbello. The right-hander allowed another homer to Draheim in the sixth.
Driesenga wasn’t slated to start Game 3, but Michigan coach Carol Hutchins was forced to turn to her just moments after submitting her lineup card. A shoulder injury ended Wagner’s day and presented the Cajuns a prime opportunity to complete the comeback.
“You never lick your chops when you face a competitor, somebody of that caliber,” Lotief said of Driesenga. “In our system, the way we play is we just want to take our shots. We just want to get in good hitter’s counts and take our shots.”
Driesenga retired six consecutive batters in the sixth and seventh innings to cruise to the victory. With the bases loaded in the fifth inning, she got Draheim to line out to shortstop.
Saturday’s loss spoiled a spectacular performance from ULL sophomore Jordan Wallace. The right-hander threw 13 consecutive innings, allowing nine hits and seven walks while striking out 16. The combination of her riseball and curveball stumped the nation’s No. 2 offense.
“She’s a warrior,” Lotief said. “She’s a fighter, and she’s prepared for this all year. She wasn’t going to back down.”
Haack wasn’t the only one to remain on the field. Lotief gathered his team in center field for an hour, after all of the fans had left and the stands were cleared. Behind a group of four seniors, who went a combined 8-for-23 on Saturday, the coach thanked his team for making the season a success.
“They’ve been our heart and soul,” he said. “They’re a special group, and they’ve been together all those years, and I love them. I love those kids. I love how they fight. I love how they represent the university.”
Copyright © 2014, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved