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EVANSTON — There is no question that Lexie Blair is one of the Michigan softball team’s most important players.

There are very clear reasons why she bats first in the order. Blair, a senior outfielder and last year’s Big Ten Player of The Year, is everything that the Wolverines need right now. She’s solid at the plate batting .314, she’s impeccable in the outfield, and most importantly, she’s a veteran presence in a locker room that desperately needs confidence

And on Friday, in the Wolverines 4-3 extra innings loss to No. 9 Northwestern, the value that Blair brings was on full display — right up until the moment she was forced out of the game.

Coming to Evanston for their first of three games against the Big Ten’s current leaders, the Wolverines knew that they couldn’t win without bringing a complete game. Their pitching couldn’t falter like it did against Nebraska, their hitting couldn’t go stagnant like it did against Miami and their fielding had to be perfect. And Blair embodied all of this.

In the second inning, as Michigan clung to a 1-0 lead, it needed runs. And Blair delivered. With two outs and runners on second and third, Blair swung on a hanging pitch and blasted the ball to deep left center to score two runs and put the Wolverines up by three.

Michigan’s lead fizzled later in the game, but Blair didn’t falter. 

With a tied score in the bottom of the seventh, Wildcats outfielder Skyler Shellmyer walloped a ball to deep center field. The ball should’ve sailed over Blair’s head and landed on the warning track for a double, but Blair didn’t let it. She snagged the ball with an inconceivable backhand grab at a full sprint, ensuring that the Wolverines would survive into extra innings.

But at the same time, possibly ending her weekend. 

After Blair caught the ball, she ran directly into the wall and collapsed. After being down for a few minutes, she hobbled off of the field supported by two coaches, and didn’t return. And following the game, she was seen using crutches to leave the dugout

Any speculation as to Blair’s condition or whether or not she will have to miss time would be pure conjecture. But what is clear is that if she does have to miss time, her absence will leave a major hole in the lineup at a moment when the Wolverines can’t afford to be at anything other than their best.

It isn’t just that Blair’s a better batter and fielder than any possible alternative, it’s that without her, Michigan has one fewer leader.  

“Our confidence is definitely not where it needs to be,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said last week. “No question.” 

And right now is when Michigan needs leadership the most. They are currently battling the toughest opponent in the Big Ten, are 1-4 in their last five games and are, for the first time since 1991, 0-3 to start Big Ten play.

It is clear that the Wolverines are backsliding, and missing a player like Blair, even just for the weekend, could have a major impact. 

If Blair is healthy and able to return, it will be a huge relief for Michigan. But if Blair must miss time, another Wolverine will need to step up and into a leadership role. Because if that doesn’t happen, Michigan will be lacking something major.