If we start with game 1, Michigan’s pitchers, Haylie Wagner and Megan Betsa, combined for four strikeouts. Florida’s pitchers, Aleshia Ocasio and Delaney Gourley also combined for a total of four. And the final score? A 3-2 victory for Florida!
Then we move on to Game #2, and we saw more of the same. Wagner collected 5 strikeouts for Michigan, and Florida ace (and NCAA Player of the Year) Lauren Haeger picked up a mere 1 strikeout! And the final score of this game? A whopping 1-0 win for Michigan!
So what about game 3? In this final game, Michigan’s pitching duo combined for 8 strikeouts (a high total comparatively), while Haeger stayed true to form with 5 strikeouts total. And Florida came out on top of this game 4-1 to repeat as WCWS champions.
What makes all of this even more remarkable is that both Michigan and Florida had two of the best offensive teams in the country. And yet here we watched in the championship series three low-scoring games where the pitchers were outstanding without racking up dozens of strikeouts.
So what did the pitchers do well to keep the defense from scoring? In a very basic, and simple, breakdown they mixed speeds, hit their spots, and moved the ball extremely well.
Remember Greg Maddox, who spent most of his career pitching for the Chicago Cubs back in the 80’s and 90’s? His fastball never reached the 90’s and yet his ability to change speeds with pinpoint control would frustrate hitters like crazy throughout his great (and long) career. This series reminded me a lot of the way that he approached pitching.
While I am not suggesting that these pitchers in the WCWS were slow, what I am saying is that they did a great job of hitting their spots and mixing up speeds. During an in-game interview Michigan’s head coach Carol Hutchins made the comment that Lauren Haeger was getting “in their head” with her changeup.
And she got “in their head” while accumulating only 6 strikeouts in 14 total innings of pitching!
I am a huge believer in the changeup. The WCWS was an instance of this pitch being put on display to keep hitters off-balanced and frustrated. It is amazing to see a great hitting team completely “shut-down” and frustrated by a pitcher that is mixing in the changeup effectively. All of Florida’s pitchers did this remarkably well.
While Michigan’s hitters obviously put the ball in play, they rarely were able to make solid contact because their swings were defensive. And this drives hitters crazy!