Teams have a tendency to fold following the loss of a top
player, but the Michigan softball team continues to win games on
the field despite being hit with a plague of injuries lately.

The main reason for Michigan’s recent lack of the long
ball is the loss of junior shortstop Jessica Merchant, who sprained
her ankle on Sunday in the first game of the Iowa series. Sporting
a leg brace and crutches, she was forced to sit on the bench during
yesterday’s doubleheader.

“Her ankle is still really swollen,” Michigan coach
Carol Hutchins said. “We’re all hopeful she will come
back soon, but it’s all day-to-day.”

Merchant was named last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week
— an honor she’s received three times this season.

With her home run on April 14 against Eastern Michigan, she
moved into first place on the Michigan single-season home run list
with 14 jacks. She also leads the Big Ten with an impressive
slugging percentage (.810).

While attempting to deal with the loss of Merchant, Michigan is
also trying to get sophomore third baseman Grace Leutele completely
healthy. Leutele pulled her hamstring two weeks ago against Purdue
and finally returned yesterday.

“I don’t think she’s 100 percent better,
yet,” Hutchins said. “But I think she’s almost
there. I was proud of her comeback. She was hitting the ball really
well.”

Senior infielder Angie Churchill has become the team’s
best utility player. She filled in for Leutele the past two weeks
and is currently playing in the shortstop position in place of
Merchant.

“When you lose one of your key players you need all the
surrounding players to step it up,” Hutchins said.
“Churchill continues to make something happen offensively
every game. She’s filling in for a big spot. I told her that
we don’t need her to do anything more than what she is doing.
I’m very proud of what’s she done lately.”

Serving up solid pitching: Michigan has given up only six runs
in the past 16 games. This remarkable statistic is a credit to the
Wolverines’ deep pitching staff, which is led by sophomore
Jennie Ritter. Yesterday, Ritter pitched the first game of the
doubleheader and allowed no runs. Hurling a solid changeup
throughout the game, Ritter didn’t allow the Chippewas’
lineup much comfort at the plate.

“I felt relaxed,” Ritter said. “I just went in
there and tried working on my pitches each time. My changeup seemed
to be working really well today. They couldn’t hit it, so I
just kept using it.”

Hutchins was impressed with Ritter’s pitching, but is
still critical of her primary thrower.

“Ritter’s performance was pretty good,”
Hutchins said. “However, I still think she can pitch better
than she pitches.”

Breaking into the big numbers: After sweeping the series with
Central Michigan yesterday, the Wolverines hit their 1,000th win in
the history of the program.

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