Blwo and Bar-bque
ue owned by
By H. Jose Bosch
Daily Sports Editor
The Michigan baseball team battled through the loss of its
four top pitchers and three top hitters to go 11-7 to start the
It battled through a 1-3 start in conference play to finish
23-9 and win the Big Ten regular-season title.
And it battled back from a tournament-opening loss to Minnesota
to win four straight and take home the Big Ten conference tourna-
ment championship. s
The Wolverines have battled all season long.
But their final battle wasn't enough.
Trailing Vanderbilt 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning of
an elimination game in the NCAA Atlanta Regional, sopho-
more Nate Recknagel pulled Michigan to within one run on a
leadoff solo homerun. Then, after senior Jeff Kunkel's single,
teammate Doug Pickens gave the Wolverines a 3-2 lead by
smacking a two-run shot over the rightfield fence.
It was the final time Michigan would hold a lead this season.
The Wolverines fell to the Commodores, 5-4, in the double
elimination NCAA tournament, ending their season after just
three regional games for the second straight year.
"We were happy we made it here, but we came here to win a
regional and we didn't do that," Pickens said. "We had a suc-
cessful season, but we still fell short of the final goal to win a
regional, play in a super regional (and) win that super regional EUGENE ROBERTSON/Daily
(and) then to play in Oaha." Senior catcher Jeff Kunkel consoles teammate Paul Hammond on the mound. Sunday marked both Hammond and Kunkel's final game as Wolverines.
Michigan's short-lived lead just lasted into the seventh plate to tie the game. That allowed Vanderbilt's Brain Hernandez to drive in the go-
inning. "It was a little downer because they came back to tie the ahead run with a sacrifice fly.
Vanderbilt's Alex Feinberg doubled the first pitch he saw game, but we definitely thought we were still in the game," The Commodores added another run in the eighth inning to
and later appeared to have third base on a wild pitch. But Pickens said. go up 5-3, but the Wolverines' battling spirit refused to die.
umpires ruled that Kunkel's foot had touched the top of the But shoddy pitching doomed the Wolverines. Sophomore Derek VanBuskirk scored Michigan's fourth
third base dugout as he slid to retrieve the ball - turning a Following the wild pitch, Michigan gave up a double, inten- run in the bottom of the eighth when Feinburg threw the ball
wild pitch into a dead ball - and awarded Feinberg home tionally walked a batter and hit another to load the bases. See VANDY, Page 14
uintet o Wolverines will be sorely missed
Disappointment. It's a big black cloud that's been
looming over Ann Arbor for a while now, especially
when it comes to postseason play. And while team
after team has made attempts to shoo the cloud
away, there it sits, billowing and growing more
daunting by the second.
When the Michigan softball team made its
postseason exit in the NCAA Super Regionals last
weekend against Tennessee, it was only natural to
This was a Michigan team with promise - the
defending national champs. The Wolverines were
clicking at the right time, making the game look fun,
never giving up and all those other sports cliches
that come out around this time of year. Here was
Michigan's chance for some sort of glory after a year
of hanging our heads in shame.
But this team didn't come through, either.
As teammates lined up for hugs and tearful
goodbyes following the hard-fought loss, whose
heart didn't leap out to them? It had been a tough
season, full of learning the price that comes with
being a champion. To see the season end without
at least a trip to the Women's College World
Series just didn't seem right.
Remember when you were a kid and something
horrible would happen, causing you to cry and
maybe kick and scream on the floor a little bit?
Then your mom would come and try to soothe
you by bringing out the positive in all of it, even
though all you wanted to do was pout and revel in
your sadness a little more.
Well, that happens in softball, too.
After the loss in Tennessee, I slowly headed down
the grandstands, preparing myself for an emotional
press conference. Halfway down, I ran into the
mother of senior catcher Becky Marx, snapping
photos of her daughter's last moments in a Michigan
jersey. I stopped to talk to her and immediately was
greeted with wisdom that mothers always seem to
have. When I said it was too bad the season hadto
end like this, Mrs. Marx just smiled and said that
Becky already had everything she needed. She has
Big Ten and national championship rings. She did
what she came here to do.
Just as so many had feared, that age-old adage
really seems to be true: Mother knows best.
Looking at the big picture, disappointment can't
even be an issue with this team. It won a national
championship last year that screamed,"look atus!"
Not only did it put the Wolverines on the softball map,
they yank the spotlight away from western teams like
UCLA and Arizona. Before the 2005 Wolverines, a
team east of the Mississippi River had never won a
national championship. Now, even though Michigan
is out, Big Ten regular season champion Northwestern
is shaking things up at the WCWS.
Though the 2006 Wolverines didn't make it to
softball's version of the Big Dance,they certainly
had the talent and the heart to tango with any of the
teams still playing right now. Their Super Regional
series battle with Tennessee could have been a
national championship series. It was that intense,
that high quality, that hard fought. The Volunteers
may have won, but that doesn't mean Michigan
didn't come to play.
Case in point: pitcher Jennie Ritter. Disappoint-
ment isn't even an option with this senior. The
two-time All-American is the textbook definition of
heart. She gives it all each pitch with determination
written all over her face. After throwing hundreds of
pitches against hungry Volunteer batters - some of
the best in the country - she was clearly exhausted.
But if someone had told her she needed to go out
there and throw a hundred more for her team, she
would have done it without a moment's hesitation.
That's just who she is and how she plays.
Looking at the record book, it's hard to
explain just how much the Wolverines are going
to miss Ritter next year. She's Michigan's all-
time leader in strikeouts (1,205), shutouts (43),
no-hitters (five), innings pitched (835), appear-
ances (151) and starts (115). Aside from the num-
bers, the talent and the drive, she has confidence,
too. Her swagger in the circle made her the most
consistent player on this team.
Joining Ritter are four more standout seniors.
There's second baseman Tiffany Haas, the strong
leadoff hitter. Her batting was so dependable she
often flew under the radar. Over at third is Grace
Leutele, who probably wakes up with a smile on her
face. Cheerful and agile, Leutele had a knack for
turning up the heat in the postseason. Back in right-
field is Stephanie Bercaw, the bottom-order batter
who was always ready to surprise you by popping an
amazing hit or making a huge catch.
And then behind home you have Marx. Transfer-
ring from Loyola her junior year, the newly crowned
All-American had just two years to make her mark.
See SENIORS, Page 15