When senior outfielder Lexie Blair crashed into the outfield fence chasing a fly-ball in Evanston two months ago, everyone waited with bated breath.
And when she was flanked by two trainers holding her shoulders as she limped to the dugout, it seemed like the Wolverines’ lofty postseason goals went with her. After returning from that injury, Blair has proved her integral importance to their success.
During her month-long absence, the No. 23 Michigan softball team struggled. The Wolverines posted an 8-4 record during that time, and dropped games to Big Ten opponents in Northwestern, Penn State and Maryland.
Lexie Blair was playing her best softball of the season heading into the Northwestern series, as she looked like her award-winning 2021 self. But as she slowly made her return to the permanent lineup at the end of April, what to expect wasn’t clear. Would that form come back? Would she be the same Lexie Blair that posted those gaudy 2021 stat lines?
Blair quickly proved that the injury didn’t affect her abilities, and she hasn’t let up since.
“To be back fully and playing, I am grateful for any opportunity I have to be back from my injury,” Blair said on April 23, after starting at first base as a step toward full recovery. “Being placed in a new position like that, I (will do) anything I can to help us win.”
In the eight games since her return, Blair proved just that. Since making first base her own, Blair has posted a .480 batting average, complete with four doubles and a Senior Day home run. She has also shown an impressive ability to adapt, posting zero errors in her first base switch and making several athletic plays from the position as well.
Last weekend’s series against Wisconsin was the culmination of her triumphant return.
Blair played her most complete game of the season in the Friday edition of the bout, going 4-for-4 with a run and an RBI to boot. And while her production dipped below that perfection in the next few games, Blair did more than enough to guide the offense to victory — especially in her 3-for-4 performance during Michigan’s comeback, 13-9 win.
“I could feel the energy from my teammates,” Blair said after her seventh-inning single led to a win over Ohio State on April 23. “I think that’s what really got me going.”
Blair thrives off the energy of her team, but is also content to play her role. She quickly slotted into first base, even if it wasn’t her typical position. In press conferences, she was quick to joke about first base not being her natural position, but she was more than willing to play it. She made every effort to ensure that her addition did not come with a drop in fielding strength.
These are the intangible aspects of Blair’s return that affect Michigan as much as her on-field performance does. Her selfless attitude and leadership provides an example to the underclassmen Wolverines, one they have taken in stride. The team’s freshmen have since come into their own, with right-hander Lauren Derkowski putting together quality relief outings and outfielder Ellie Sieler’s bat coming to life.
As the Big Ten tournament looms on the horizon, the Wolverines are coming to life at the right time. Blair’s leadership — as well as her productive bat — will buoy Michigan as it faces the inevitable adversity that postseason softball brings.
Blair is firing on all cylinders, and Michigan looks like an entirely different team as a result. The Wolverines now exude confidence, a trait they have lacked all season.
Michigan is poised to make a run, and Blair will certainly be at the center of it.