Michigan claims eighth consecutive Big Ten regular-season crown
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Third-ranked Michigan put the finishing touches on its eighth consecutive Big Ten Conference championship, cruising to a 10-2, five-inning decision against Penn State on Sunday afternoon in front of a sellout 2,550 crowd at the Wilpon Complex, home of Alumni Field. The Wolverines finished the Big Ten season with a 21-2 league record to claim the title outright.
Junior leftfielder Kelly Christner wrapped up her near-perfect weekend at the plate with a 2-for-2, 3-RBI effort. She went 8-for-9 over the series. Junior second baseman Sierra Romero also tallied two hits, while junior designated player Kelsey Susalla, senior catcher Lauren Sweet and sophomore third baseman Lindsay Montemarano drove in two runs apiece.
Sophomore RHP Megan Betsa (24-4) tossed her second one-hitter of the weekend, striking out seven through four innings of work. Senior LHP Haylie Wagner closed out the contest with a quick 1-2-3 fifth inning.
After little early-inning production in the series' first two games, the Wolverines jumped on Penn State immediately in the finale, plating three runs in the first frame off three hits and a walk. After a walk to lead off the game, Romero beat out an infield single to put runners on the corners for Christner, who smacked a line-drive RBI single into right field. Penn State responded with back-to-back outs, but Montemarano reignited the rally, glancing a liner off the leaping shortstop's glove into shallow right field to score two; Christner slid in to avoid the tag at home plate.
Michigan added another three runs in the second after loading the bases with one out. Christner drove a sac fly into deep left field before Susalla, in her return after missing two games with a mild injury, roped a two-run single into the right center field gap.
In continuation of the trend, the Wolverines plated three more runs in the third. Freshman Taylor Swearingen kicked off the inning with a solo shot from the leadoff spot, connecting with the 2-1 pitch and sailing it deep over the right center field wall -- her ninth long ball of the season. PSU walked the bases loaded with two outs, inducing its second pitching change of the contest, but it did little to curb Michigan's momentum. Sweet worked herself into a hitter's count before looping a two-run single into shallow right center field.
After two walks did no damage for Betsa in the top of the third, the Nittany Lions spoiled her no-hit bid with a blast in the fourth. After a lead-off walk and a foulout, PSU first baseman Kristina Brackpool drove a full-count, two-run liner off the scoreboard beyond the left field wall. Betsa responded with a strikeout and ended the inning on a soft popout to third base.
Wagner entered her Senior Day game in the top of the fifth and made quick work of the Nittany Lions' No. 9, No. 1 and No. 2 hitters, setting them down in order on just eight pitches.
The Wolverines reestablished their run-rule margin in the bottom of the fifth. Romero got aboard with a low-liner double, and Christner immediately sent her home with a game-ending RBI single up the middle.