A hitter's revenge for Findlay
OKLAHOMA CITY So much for softball's divine right of pitchers.
Forgotten are fan anesthetizing shutouts and one-run ballgames. With UCLA and Michigan deadlocked at 1-1, three hours, 10 minutes and three extra innings into the second-longest Women's College World Series championship game in history, Samantha Findlay hit a two-out, three-run blast to lift the Wolverines to a 4-1 victory over the Bruins and help the team claim its first national championship.
The Big Ten Freshman of the Year drove in all four Michigan runs on the evening, bringing her RBI total to eight in the WCWS and a team-leading 77 on the year. With nine total hits and a stout .409 average through the World Series, the first baseman earned the tourney's Most Outstanding Player award the first rookie position player to receive the prestigious honor. In doing so, Findlay struck a blow for hitters everywhere sluggers and slappers alike. Belittled as props for the precious pitchers who pile up strikeouts and hoard hits like third-world dictators, hitters are back on top of the game, for now.
Softball is an endless struggle of pitcher against hitter. It's a lesson even the best of the best forgot when the reputable minds on the UCLA bench decided to let Anjelica Selden go after red-hot Findlay in the momentous 10th inning.
When asked about the pitch to Findlay, Selden succinctly summarized, "I missed on a pitch and she hit it."
More accurately, Findlay belted it a mile.
On deck was the snake-bit stick of Nicole Motycka, who had been dolefully losing the aforementioned struggle all series, hitless in her last 11 at-bats, including seven consecutive strikeouts against "Jelly" Selden.
Senior Jessica Merchant preceded Findlay, but struck out swinging for the second out of the inning. As she trotted back to the dugout, Merchant the co-captain had a message for her freshman first baseman: "Pick me up, Sam.''
Pick her up she did, driving Selden's pitch deep into the Oklahoma night. For the tournament, Findlay hit three doubles and a home run and garnered a WCWS-high 15 total bases.
But just 24 hours before her title-winning hit, Findlay laid into another pitch from Selden for an RBI double to right in Game 2. Another Motycka momentum-stalling strikeout followed that hit. And earlier still in Tuesday's game, Findlay drew a fifth-inning base on balls from Selden, only to see Motycka's Jelly-baffled bat fall victim to another strikeout.
So with all due respect to coach Sue Enquist, why not walk Findlay in the 10th inning on Wednesday and take your chances with Motycka, who hadn't produced a quality at-bat, let alone a hit, against Selden in recent memory?
As much as pitching dominance stole the spotlight for much of this World Series, curious coaching moves proved a noteworthy opening act.
After learning softball's golden rule (always ride your ace) the hard way against UCLA, Texas coach Connie Clark should have made a courtesy call to the Bruins' skipper after the 2-for-3 clinic Findlay put on Friday night against her club, complete with a Horns-beating two-run double against none other than USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, Cat Osterman. Clark also could have detailed how, in the second inning of that Michigan-Texas game, after Findlay singled through the left side, Motycka subsequently struck out swinging (sensing a pattern?). And Clark could have mentioned how, in the fourth inning, when Findlay doubled to left-center, Motycka again struck out swinging.
Maybe what UCLA needed was a call from Findlay's Lockport, Ill., high school coach, boasting of Samantha's clutch, three-run homer in the state semifinals last year, or the timely two-out game-winning RBI double in the bottom of the sixth that ultimately nabbed her Porters the Illinois state title.
But Enquist made her choice. And it's difficult to argue with the decision of a coach who added seven national championship trophies to that crowded Westwood display case. Who knows what would have transpired if the Bruins had intentionally put Findlay aboard to load 'em up. There's no 20-20 hindsight for the road not taken, and softball has a way of surprising you. It certainly surprised a lot of us this year.
After all, who would have thought that in a game filled with pitching duels, big plays, close calls, extra innings, wild momentum swings and future Olympians huddled in each dugout, a freshman from Lockport would valiantly emerge to deliver the Wolverines, the Big Ten and the Eastern time zone their first softball national championship.
Samantha Findlay, unto you a fan club is born.
Mary Buckheit, a former college softball player, is covering the Women's College World Series for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Mary.J.Buckheit@ESPN3.com