IOWA CITY — Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins
constantly explains to her players the importance of defense. At
practice, they work hard on it, and she tells the team regularly
that defense wins games.

Yesterday’s double-header at Iowa was a perfect example of
this maxim. No. 9 Michigan won both of its games by a score of 3-1,
but the outcome could have been different had it not been for a
handful of spectacular defensive plays.

“Our defense always has amazing plays, and they always
make it look easy,” junior pitcher Nicole Motycka said.
“They are the key to our success.”

In the top of the second inning, senior captain Angie Churchill
made the play of the day when she dove to her right to snag a line
drive out of the air. Churchill had just come into the game to
replace injured shortstop Jessica Merchant, a key player for the
Wolverines. It was the first strong defensive play Churchill made,
but was not the only significant play she made this weekend.

In the bottom of the first inning, Churchill came to the plate
with runners at the corners for her first at-bat of the day. With
two outs, the Hawkeyes intentionally walked senior slugger Jennifer
Olds to get to Churchill. She made them pay, hitting a single into
left field and scoring the first run of the game. The Wolverines
never trailed again.

Throughout the game, Churchill also made a few other strong
plays at shortstop. She had four other putouts — all on
ground balls — and didn’t make an error. In the fifth
inning, she charged a slow-rolling grounder and made the throw to
first on the run, which ended the inning.

“One thing I pride the defense on is that they are
amazing,” sophomore pitcher Jennie Ritter said. “I
mean, I expect them to field the balls that come to them. My
defense is behind me telling me, ‘Let us help you, let us
help you.’

“We definitely feed off of each other. If they do well,
I’ll do well. If I do well, they’ll do well.”

In the first game of the day, it was mostly the outfielders
helping out Ritter. With a strong wind blowing out to left-center
field, more balls than usual were being hit into the grass. The
first batter of the day, Iowa’s Natalie Johnson, hit a pop-up
into right field that was dying fast. Senior Courtney Betley made a
diving catch to get the Wolverines off to a good start and Ritter
went on to pitch a perfect game through the first 13 batters.

The game ended much the same way it began — with
spectacular fielding. Iowa was rallying in the seventh inning when
pinch hitter Ali Arnold stepped to the plate. The Hawkeyes had
already scored one run and had runners on first and second with two
outs. Arnold hit a fly ball just over second base, but senior
captain Megan Doe ended the game with her diving grab.

The Wolverines (11-1 Big Ten, 38-7 overall) were coming off of a
tough loss at Illinois on Saturday. They came from behind to beat
Illinois on Friday 4-2, but could not hold onto a lead during
Saturday’s game and lost 3-2. The loss snapped a 19-game
winning streak for Michigan, and Hutchins said that it made the
games against Iowa even more important.

“We really rebounded,” Hutchins said. “And we
have shown great character this weekend. We were behind in the
first game against Illinois, and we came back. We dropped one
yesterday that we certainly had an opportunity to win, but I
thought that we have shown great character, and we’re going
to need that.”

Motycka added that the Wolverines really wanted to get Iowa back
for last year when the Hawkeyes beat out Michigan for the Big Ten
conference title. She added that the team had been waiting for this
opportunity.

“We felt that this was a game that we really needed to win
if we wanted to think about winning the conference
championship,” Motycka said.

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