ANN ARBOR, MI(NU Athletics Apr. 19) The Nebraska softball team pitched out of trouble most of the night Friday but a ninth-inning walk-off home run lifted Michigan to a 4-3 series-opening win in Ann Arbor.

The game headed to extra innings tied 2-2 before Samantha Bland gave Nebraska the lead with a leadoff home run in the top of the eighth. A two-out rally from Michigan in the bottom of the inning tied the game, but the Wolverines missed a chance to win it by leaving the bases loaded.

Then in the ninth, Nebraska stranded a runner at second base in its half of the inning before Ava Costales hit a walk-off home run to left center with one out.

Nebraska’s pitching staff did well in limiting one of the conference’s top offenses. Michigan entered the game averaging 7.5 runs per game in its first 14 Big Ten games, but the Huskers held the Wolverines to just four runs.

Sarah Harness and Kaylin Kinney were able to escape jams throughout the night to give Nebraska a chance. Michigan had the leadoff runner on base in six of its nine innings but the Wolverines were just 3-for-20 with runners on base and 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Michigan stranded 15 base runners in the game.

Michigan left the bases loaded four times, including the sixth inning when the Wolverines loaded the bases with no outs but did not score. The two runs Michigan scored in regulation were an unearned run in the first inning and a bases-loaded walk in the fourth.

Kinney (15-11) took the loss, allowing two runs in 5.0 innings. Harness started and was charged with two runs (one earned) in 3.1 innings. While both pitchers were effective in pressure situations, but the duo did combine to walk a season-high nine batters.

Offensively, Nebraska had just one hit in the first seven innings as Bland’s eighth-inning home run was just the second hit of the game for the Huskers. Nebraska was out-hit 9-5. The Huskers drew four walks and were hit by four pitches, but Nebraska was just 2-for-14 with runners on base and stranded 10 runners.

Sydney Gray went 2-for-3 with a walk, a double and two RBIs. Bland finished 1-for-5 with her home run. Billie Andrews and Caitlynn Neal produced Nebraska’s other hits.

Nebraska fell to 25-17 with the loss and dropped to 8-4 in Big Ten play. Michigan improved to 11-0 at home while moving to 31-14 overall and 12-3 in conference play. Hannah George (3-1) earned the win in relief by tossing a scoreless ninth inning.

Michigan took advantage of a Husker miscue to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Following a bloop leadoff double, a passed ball moved the runner to third with no outs. Harness then retired the next three hitters with back-to-back ground outs and a fly out, but the second ground out scored the runner from third.

Nebraska’s offense was quiet until the top of the fourth. Peyton Cody drew a leadoff walk before Michigan got two outs. Neal was hit by a two-out pitch to bring up Gray, who recorded the Huskers’ first hit of the game with a two-run double to left to give Nebraska a 2-1 lead. Bella Bacon and Ava Bredwell were both then hit by a pitch to load the bases for Billie Andrews, who flew out to the wall in center.

Michigan came right back in the bottom of the frame. The Wolverines had a pair of singles to begin the inning and a one-out walk loaded the bases and brought Kinney into the game. Kinney coaxed a comebacker to the circle and threw home for the second out of the inning. The next batter drew a seven-pitch walk to score a run and tie the game at 2-2. But Kinney limited the damage with an inning-ending strikeout.

The Wolverines continued to put together scoring chances in the top of the sixth. The first three batters all walked to load the bases with no outs. But Kinney escaped the jam with a force out at home, a strikeout and a foul out.

In the top of the seventh, Bredwell was hit by a pitch and Billie Andrews walked to put runners at first and second with one out but the Huskers were unable to score.

Kinney then quickly retired the first two batters of the bottom of the seventh before a hit batter, an error and an infield bloop single loaded the bases with two outs. She escaped the jam when Gray fielded a chopper at third and dove to touch the third base bag with her glove just before the runner made it to the base.

In the top of the eighth, Bland led off with a home run to left. After a strikeout, Neal and Gray had back-to-back singles. Bacon then lined a ball to left where Ellie Sieler made a sliding catch to save at least one run.

In the bottom of the eighth, Kinney recorded the first two outs on just three pitches. A bunt single put the tying run on base and a bloop single that just eluded a diving Neal in right field scored the tying run. With first base open and Keke Tholl, the reigning Big Ten and National Player of the Week at the plate, Nebraska issued an intentional walk. A wild pitch moved the runners up to second and third so the Huskers issued a second intentional walk to load the bases. Kinney then fell behind the next hitter 3-1 before coming back with two straight strikes for an inning-ending strikeout.

In the top of the ninth, Billie Andrews began the inning with a single. Katelyn Caneda then moved Andrews to second base with a sacrifice bunt. But Andrews was left stranded at second base.

In the bottom of the ninth, Kinney won a nine-pitch at bat with a ground out before Costales hit her walk-off homer on a 1-0 pitch.

Nebraska and Michigan continued their series on Saturday at 1 p.m. (Central).

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