Carson, Michigan Rally For Alexander
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The home crowd at Alumni Field grew silent.
Their Michigan softball team had won 14 straight games. It claimed the Big Ten regular season championship in its final conference series. It won the Big Ten Tournament six days later. This all was good enough for the Wolverines to earn the right to host an NCAA Tournament regional for the first time since 2016.
But just four batters into their opening game against St. Francis (PA), that promise teetered on the brink.
With two outs in the first inning and a runner aboard, catcher Katie Alexander spotted the Red Flash’s Cheyenne McKee inching away from first base and focused her attention on picking her off.
She never made the throw.
Alexander’s right leg buckled underneath her. She lost the ball and fell to the dirt in a heap. McKee easily made it to second, but in the moment, that hardly mattered.
Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins made her way out of the dugout to check on her senior catcher — the anchor of the Wolverines’ defense, their top power hitter, and one of their unquestioned veteran leaders. Losing a player like Alexander is a scary proposition on its own. And it didn’t help that the injury just plain looked scary.
“She felt something — she said, ‘something hit me,’ ” Hutchins said. “Then she thought it was the umpire's knee into her knee.”
Alexander got up after about 15 seconds, before standing up and walking around in an effort to shake it off. And in typical Katie Alexander fashion, she wanted to remain in the game. So she did, for one inning. But after the second inning ended, Hutchins knew she had to take her out.
In Alexander’s stead came her heir apparent, freshman Hannah Carson. And if that title seems strong for someone with just 42 college at-bats, rest assured it’s well-earned. She hit .571 as a senior in high school and finished her prep career with 31 home runs and didn’t strike out once. You read that last part right.
Pedigree aside, coming in cold to replace one of your team’s most important players in the NCAA Tournament is a whole different animal. But Carson tackled it by the horns, roping a two-out single into center her first at-bat.
“I knew (Alexander) had the confidence in me and trusted me,” Carson said.
She did herself one better in the fifth inning. With two outs and a runner on first, Carson drilled a shot deep into the alley in right-center, scoring Mackenzie Nemitz and putting Michigan (44-11) ahead, 5-0. After the game, she lamented the fact that the hit wasn’t a couple inches higher.
“At first I was just hoping that she was alright,” Carson said. “But I knew that no matter what, if I had to go in, my teammates trusted me, my coaches trusted me, and I just used what I've been practicing.”
Just as impressive as Carson’s day at the plate was her work behind it. Her rapport with Beaubien allowed the sophomore left-hander to remain dominant as ever — in Beaubien’s five innings, she struck out five and allowed just two hits.
“The biggest difference in this case is going from your catcher that you've thrown to for two years and you're very used to,” Beaubien said. “Katie's fantastic and I really hope she's okay, but I trust Hannah as well. Hannah's been awesome this year, and she really came in and didn't miss a beat.”
After Michigan wrapped up its 8-0, run-rule victory over the Red Flash (29-30) in six innings, Hutchins said that Alexander’s status is up in the air, but that she’s “stable” and walking, albeit with some soreness.
But if Carson has more performances like she did Friday — or lives up to the massive hype surrounding her — the Wolverines will have no need to rush Alexander back to action.
“She did a great job behind the plate, did a great job at the plate, and it's great to see our kids continue to step up in the roles they've had,” Hutchins said. “We've had some great role playing throughout this whole year.”
JMU Downs DePaul Thanks To Big Fifth Inning
The Ann Arbor regional could have easily taken place in Harrisonburg, Va. James Madison, ranked 13th in RPI, had a legitimate case to host a regional of its own instead of being sent to Michigan. Instead, the Dukes (48-7) ended up at Alumni Field, where they won their first game, 5-2, over DePaul (34-15) on Friday.
“We're past (not hosting) now,” said James Madison coach Loren LaPorte. “We've been asked that question about 100 times already. We're using it as fuel, but we're here to win a regional no matter where we are. These girls are ready and I'm happy with the way we came out today.”
The Dukes’ normally potent offense, averaging 8.26 runs, was stymied for much of the game. They didn’t score until the fourth inning, when shortstop Sara Jubas homered to left.
But they woke up in a big way an inning later. Left fielder Kate Gordon smashed her program-record 19th home run of the season to give James Madison a 3-1 lead. Later in the frame, catcher Kierstin Roadcap doubled that lead with a two-bagger to right-center.
First baseman Morgan Greenwood, who had both of the Blue Demons’ two RBI, hit a solo home run in the sixth inning, but it turned out to be too little, too late.
Odicci Alexander, the CAA Player of the Year, was rock-solid in her five innings, moving to 23-1 on the season. Of the right-hander’s 57 pitches, 45 were for strikes, and she allowed just three hits to four strikeouts without giving up an earned run — DePaul scored
thanks to an error, single and a fielder’s choice in the fourth inning.
Right-hander Krista Dalgarn (13-8) took the loss for the Blue Demons, who will meet St. Francis in an elimination game at 2:30 on Saturday. On the other side of the bracket, James Madison will move to play Michigan at noon on Saturday.