Lexie Blair returns to the Michigan lineup after a month-long injury. Anna Fuder/Daily. Buy this photo.

Just a month ago, the Michigan softball team dropped a tight extra-innings loss to Northwestern. 

The loss was impactful. It prevented the Wolverines from leaving Evanston with a series win, it contributed to an early hole in conference play that they haven’t fully recovered from, and more generally, it was a stinging defeat. It was a game they could’ve won, and didn’t.

But Michigan lost something even more important that day — the absence of which has hampered them throughout this past month — senior outfielder Lexie Blair

Blair was having a banner day with a two RBI double and an inconceivable backhand grab to keep the Wolverines alive in the bottom of the seventh. However, that catch would come back to haunt Blair and Michigan. Right after she secured the ball, she ran full speed into the wall and minutes later hobbled off the field with the support of two trainers. 

It would be almost a month before she’d retake the field. And in that month, her absence was glaring. The Wolverines lacked consistency, and Michigan coach Carol Hutchins was not afraid to proclaim that she needed more leadership from her upperclassmen — an issue compounded by the absence of a perennial leader. 

Last week, Blair finally saw her return to action, coming up empty in two pinch hit at bats against Maryland. This past weekend though, Blair made a full return — and it was nothing short of triumphant.

On Saturday, in her first start since injury, Blair’s fifth-inning bases loaded single broke the ice for a previously cold Michigan batting order and tied the game at a pivotal moment. And just two innings later, she continued to produce, swatting a lead-off single that opened the floodgates and allowed for fifth-year third baseman Taylor Bump’s walk-off triple. 

On Sunday, she continued her hot streak, notching three RBIs in a game where the Wolverines amassed only five runs. 

In just two games back from injury, Blair has displayed her importance to this team and that she hasn’t lost a step, which is huge for Michigan. 

“I think she’s doing her part,” Hutchins said. “Having her back in the lineup, we’ve been missing it, and it has been effective.”

Blair adds consistency and leadership to a Wolverine lineup that has had its fair share of struggles. But while Blair is back and having an impact, she’s still not 100%. Her mobility remains limited, and because of this — and the emergence of freshman and junior outfielders Ellie Sieler and Audrey LeClair — Blair is now starting at a new position, first base. 

“Oh gosh, don’t get me started on first base,” Blair said laughing. “I’m just grateful for any opportunity I have to be back out here playing for my team. Anything I can do to help us win the game, I’m always going to take that opportunity.” 

Blair may not love, or even like first base. But Michigan needs her right now in any capacity, and first base is the most logical place to put her. The move doesn’t burn the DP spot that’s occupied by freshman Annabelle Widra and keeps Sieler’s athleticism in the outfield while returning a .320 batter to the lineup. 

The logic makes sense, but the change will take a bit of adjustment and a lot of confidence.

“She is such an incredible athlete, she can play wherever she wants,” Bump said. “But we took it upon ourselves to make sure that she knew everything that was going on in our infield. There’s a lot to cover. … We did everything we could to make her feel confident, and she appeared confident. That’s what matters. Even if she didn’t feel confident, if you fake that confidence it’s gonna come. I’m a big believer in ‘fake it til you make it.’ ”

Regardless of whether or not Blair’s confidence in the field is a mirage, her confidence at the plate certainly isn’t. In just two games she has demonstrated what Michigan has been missing and been needing for the past month. 

Her return, even in a new position, is huge. She brings leadership, experience, and most importantly, undeniable talent. 

All three of these things bode well for the Wolverines.