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Lexie Blair lifts Michigan softball to 2-1 victory in NCAA opener

Michigan softball senior Lexie Blair made a late-game hitting adjustment, and that was all that was needed.

Blair's two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning helped Michigan defeat South Dakota State, 2-1, in the NCAA Regionals on Friday at the UCF Softball Complex in Orlando. The 24th-ranked Wolverines (37-16) will play No. 16-seed/host UCF, which beat Villanova Friday, in the winner’s bracket Saturday at 11 a.m. in the double-elimination tournament.

The Orlando Regional winner will move on to a Super Regional against the winner of the Oklahoma Regional.

Annabelle Widra reached first after being hit by a pitch to lead off Michigan’s fifth inning, Ella McVey had a bunt single, and Kristina Burkhardt singled to load the bases. With one out, Blair singled to score the two runs.

“We had to change our game plan a little bit,” Blair said in a post-game interview on ESPN+. “The pitcher (Grace Glanzer) was throwing great the entire game. She was mixing speeds really well, so it was about picking one speed and sticking with that. Going into that at-bat, we kinda changed it that inning, so just listening to my coaches, listening to my team, really tuning in to pick pitches, seeing my pitch and driving it, that was the main goal in that at-bat. I think I did a fairly good job doing that.”

The Jackrabbits (40-12) scored in the top of the sixth on a home run by Cylie Halvorson, off starting pitcher Alex Storako. Storako pitched 6.2 innings and gave up three hits and one run and had three strikeouts. In the top of the seventh with two out, Michigan catcher Hannah Carson dropped a third strike and was then charged with a throwing error. As the play was reviewed, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins inserted pitcher Meghan Beaubien, who gave up a walk and then struck out the final batter. South Dakota State stranded two.

Blair, an outfielder who is from central Florida and playing before family and friends, has been playing out of position at first base while recovering from a right sprained knee. She was 2-for-3 with two RBI, and Burkhardt, the lead-off hitter, also went 2-for-3.

This is Michigan’s 29th NCAA Tournament appearance, and the Wolverines have won 18 Regional titles. They have now won eight of their last nine games.

Evanston Regional

Northwestern 9, Oakland 2: The Golden Grizzlies were held to four hits by Madison Jones, Lauren Griffith, Jen Krizka and Allisa Diprimia and Sydney Campbell allowed 8 runs in 6 innings.

Twitter: @chengelis

News staff contributed.