May 13, 2006
EVANSTON, Ill. - All-American hurler Jennie Ritter tossed her way through the top-seeded Northwestern lineup to help No. 13 Michigan defend its Big Ten Tournament title with a 6-0 win over the No. 11 Wildcats. The crown marks the Wolverines eighth overall tournament title.
With the trophy staying in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the second straight year, Michigan will now look to defend its national championship crown with the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After claiming the regular season conference title with a 16-3 campaign, the Wildcats earned the right to host the postseason event for the first time ever and claimed their first championship game spot since 2003. Despite a 12-0 record at Sharon J. Drysdale Field heading into the title game, home-field advantage was not enough to escape four costly errors that set up six unearned runs for Michigan.
Named the tournament's most valuable player at the conclusion of the game, Ritter struck out nine, bringing her tournament total to 29 - second-most in tournament history. She pitched 21 innings without giving up a run and only surrendered six total hits. Her performance gave the 2006 Michigan squad the lowest team ERA in tournament history with no earned runs allowed. No team in the event's history has won the event with three straight shut-out victories.
With 2006 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Eileen Canney, squaring off against Ritter - the 2005 winner of the award - the title contest started as a pitchers dual. Both retired the side in the first inning, and no one reached base until Ritter walked Northwestern's Kristen Amegin with one out in the second. Canney struck out four straight before giving up a bunt single to Grace Luetele later in that inning.
In the bottom of the third, Michigan found its spark in an unexpected place - the bottom of its batting order. The Wolverines' No. 9 hitter, Teddi Ewing drilled a one-out single into right field to set things in motion for the Maize and Blue. Tiffany Haas punched a ball to Ashley Crane, but the second base player bobbled it before she could get it to shortstop Tammy Williams at the bag, putting runners on first and second and marking the first sign of trouble for the error-prone Wildcats. After Rebekah Milian singled to load the bases, Canney faced off with one of the Big Ten toughest hitters, senior catcher Becky Marx.
The game-winning hitter in both of Michigan's tourney contests, Marx took a ball of the full-count pitch to walk in a run and put Michigan on the board, 1-0. On the next at-bat, Northwestern centerfielder Sheila McCorkle made a diving grab at a Samantha Findlay fly ball but it hit the ground, sending Haas home. With a 2-0 deficit and runners at the corners, the Wildcats forced a ground out from Alessandra Giampaolo to get out of the inning without any further damage.
Ritter finally showed signs of being human in the top of the fourth, giving up her first two hits of the game to Williams in a textbook bunt and a left-field single from Amegin before getting McCorkle to go down swinging to end the inning. With the adrenaline kicking into full effect, Ritter rolled through the next three innings, retiring nine straight Wildcats including four strikeouts.
Canney regained her focus in the fourth, retiring the side including strike outs against Luetele and Stephanie Bercaw, but the Wolverines threatened again in the fifth. After a line drive from Haas sailed an eyelash over Williams' glove at shortstop and rolled back to the wall for a double, Garland Cooper struggled to make the play on Milian's sacrifice bunt. The Big Ten Player of the Year, Cooper bobbled the ball and made an errant toss to first, securing Michigan runners on the corners for Marx. The Wolverines home run leader, Marx almost jacked a three-run shot in the left-field corner, but the ball hit the wall less than a foot into foul territory.
The Wolverines put an exclamation point on the championship script with a four-run sixth inning. Cooper notched another error on a bunt - this time from Luetele - with one on and none out, overrunning it to notch the Wildcats' third error of the day. With runners at first and second, senior catcher Tiffany Worthy singled up the middle and Giampaolo scored on an errant throw - notching the Wildcat error count at four and giving Michigan a 3-0 lead.
Haas padded the Wolverines' efforts with a base hit up the middle to score Luetele, forcing Big Ten Coach of the Year Kate Drohan to call in Courtnay Foster to relieve Canney. On her first attempt in the circle in the game, Foster gave up a double to left-center for Milian, scoring two more for a 6-0 lead. In fitting fashion, Ritter wrapped up the title, retiring the final three Northwestern batters.