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June 13, 2005 - Image 2

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2005-06-13

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2A - The Michigan Daily - Special Section - June 13, 2005




Road to the championship
The season had its ups and downs, but the Wolverines' balance ultimately carried them to the national title.

Scott Bell

* On Softball

OKLAHOMA CITY - Did you hear that? That loud noise on Wednes-
day night was the sound of thousands of softball fans collectively sighing
in relief. And it didn't come just from Ann Arbor fans. Sure, the people of
Ann Arbor and those affiliated with the Michigan are elated, but the Wol-
verines' win stretches much further than that.
Michigan's 4-1 win over UCLA on Wednesday marked the first time a
team east of the Mississippi River had ever won a softball national cham-
pionship. In the 23 previous years prior to the Wolverines' dramatic win,
none of the national champions called the Eastern Time Zone their home.
So along with the pressure of trying to uphold the No. 1 ranking for the past
four months, Michigan also had the weight of the majority of the softball
community on their shoulders as well.
So how did they do it? How did Michigan put together such a great sea-
son to make way for this groundbreaking performance?
How did Michigan - who had to play their first 33 games of the season
on the road because of poor weather conditions and didn't hold its first
outdoor practice of the year until halfway through the season - manage
to defy all odds and win a National Championship? How did they man-
age to topple arguably the three best pitchers at the time of the College
World Series - National Player of the Year and Texas ace Cat Osterman,
Tennessee strikeout queen Monica Abbott and UCLA's red hot Anjelica
Seldon - facing them five times collectively in four days and still manag-
ing to prevail? How did they beat a team from the mighty Pac-10 on the
sport's grandest stage?
It's simple: They played Michigan softball.
You don't know what Michigan softball is?
Michigan softball is being balanced. Whether it's junior Tiffany Haas
and her 91 hits on the season at the top of the order, freshman Samantha
Findlay - the tournament's Most Outstanding Player - and her 77 RBI
in the middle of the order or the clutch hitting of juniors Stephanie Bercaw
and Becky Marx at the bottom of the order, Michigan showed its depth
throughout the season, and especially during the week-long World Series.
Michigan softball is being dominant and not backing down to compe-
tition. Nothing exemplifies this better than junior ace pitcher Jennie Rit-
ter. Her gutsy performances throughout last week against the nation's best
pitchers are what Michigan softball is all about. She threw hundreds of
pitches during the series, and still showed no signs of letting down her
bulldog mentality. She finished the season with a 38-4 record - tops in the
nation - and was there for the Maize and Blue whenever she was needed.
Michigan softball is leadership. Whether it's the leadership at the top
with legendary coach Carol Hutchins and her near thousand wins at Michi-
gan or the leadership provided on the field from seniors Jessica Merchant
and Nicole Motycka, Michigan softball never lacks good people making
good decisions.
But most importantly, Michigan softball is never giving up. It's never

getting discouraged when the team is practicing indoors at Oosterbaan
Fieldhouse when the rest of the nation is practicing outside. It's not giv-
ing up after a discouraging loss to Tennessee. It's coming right back and
eliminating them the next night. It's the players not hanging their heads
after a loss against UCLA, coming back and putting together two magical
comeback victories. It's Marx hitting a home run with a handful of outs
left in the team's season. It's freshman Alessandra Giampaolo legging out
infield singles with the season on the line.
It's junior Grace Leutele fielding a sharp
line drive when she knows if it gets by her,
the season is over. And it's Findlay com-
ing to the plate and letting the nation know
that it is Michigan's turn to be the dominant
force in softball.
So that's what Michigan softball is.
And that's how to win a National Cham-


vs. DePaul 3-0
vs. Texas 4-0
vs. Tennessee 0-2





Top right: Michigan catcher Becky Marx watches as UCLA celebrates during its five-run sixth inning. Above left: Pitcher Jennie Ritter
was 5-2 in Oklahoma City, including a 10 inning masterpiece against UCLA in the deciding game of the championship series. Above right: Senior Nicole Motycka drove in two runs in the first game of the Women's College World Series.

Continued from page 1A
momentum and looked to be in control of the game after jump-
ing ahead in the second inning. With the bases empty and two
outs, Dodd - UCLA's No. 8 hitter - took a 0-1 pitch from
Michigan starter Jennie Ritter over sophomore Rebekah Mili-
an's glove and over the leftfield fence.
After Michigan tied the game up, the best chance for UCLA
to seal its third consecutive national championship came in the
ninth inning. Kristen Dedmon blooped a leadoff double just
short of a diving Giampaolo and was subsequently moved to
third base by way of a Krista Colburn bunt. Dodd then found
her way to first base after Ritter walked her on four straight
pitches. Ritter rebounded by getting Ashley Herrera to pop
up to Haas at second base. Duran - who was 2-for-3 on the
night when she came to the plate - was intentionally walked.
Ritter and the Wolverines escaped the inning after Bruin Tara
Henry hit a sharp grounder to Leutele, who threw it to an out-
stretched Findlay to secure the third out.
"I knew we could get out of it because we had gotten out of
it before," Ritter said. "I wasn't worried because I know my
defense does a great job."
Ritter improved her record to 38-4 for the season. She
allowed four hits and five walks, striking out four in the pro-
cess. Findlay's three hits and four RBI on the night propelled
her to Most Outstanding Player honors for the series. She
ended the tournament with a .409 batting average, notching
nine hits and eight RBI - both tops for the series. Findlay,
Ritter, senior Jessica Merchant and junior Stephanie Bercaw
were named to the All-Tournament team.
"It's just a great team, and I couldn't have asked for a better
team to play for," Findlay said. "I would take this team over
nn individal awards. because this team has meant the world

Continued from page 1A
There's also a genuineness and a
humility in how the players interact
with coaches, reporters, the staff at
Alumni Field - even crazy fans. When
Ritter was introduced at the celebration
last week, a twentysomething male in
the crowd jumped up and down hold-
ing a sign that read 'Ritter ... will you
marry me?" Rather than roll her eyes
or exhibit any signs of being complete-
ly weirded out, Ritter turned around,
smiled and snapped a picture of the
guy with her camera. You just wouldn't
see that from the star of the football
team after it won a national title.
Later that night, Merchant was asked
to address the crowd. She thanked
them for coming and then had to fight
back tears when talking about her
teammates, telling them and everyone
there that just being parta ofthe team
was enough for her. It was one of the
most honest expressions of emotion I
have heard in a long time. The national
title? Just a really large cherry on top
of an even more impressive sundae.
But this championship is more than
a cherry to me. I don't get to be part
of the team, but I do get to bask in its
reflective glory. If the football team or
the hockey team doesn't win a national

lar-season CCHA crowns the hockey
team has won. In that time, the Wolver-
ines have also played in eight Women's
College World Series, compared to five
Rose Bowl appearances and nine trips
to the Frozen Four.
All the softball team lacked was
a national championship - until it's
history-making win in Oklahoma City
last week.
For all the reasons I listed and doz-
ens more, you should embrace this
team. The Wolverines deserve it. And
I'm pretty sure they would be more than
happy to share their title with every stu-
dent on campus.
Because you might not believe it
now, but it's pretty cool to be part of
any national championship - espe-
cially this one. And if it's the only
one I get, I'll be proud to have been
part of it.
Maybe in 20 years, you'll look back
and realize Samantha Findlay is your
hero, too.


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