IOWA CITY— It was a moment when everyone at Pearl Field
winced and then went silent.

As Iowa leadoff hitter Natalie Johnson slid into second base on
an attempted steal, Michigan junior shortstop Jessica Merchant
lunged for senior catcher Monica Schock’s throw. Merchant and
Johnson collided and Merchant went down in a heap, resulting in a
severe sprain of Merchant’s left ankle in the first inning of
the second game of yesterday’s doubleheader.

Although Merchant was able to walk off the field with
assistance, after being observed by both Michigan and Iowa trainers
and coaches, she was transported to a local hospital for X-rays.
The initial thought was that she may have some sort of fracture,
but the X-rays were negative, showing a bad sprain — still
far from good news for the Wolverines.

Merchant, who broke Michigan’s single-season home run
record last week and is closing in on the career mark, provides a
spark for the Wolverines, whether in action and not. But her
presence was missed for the rest of the day, and the Wolverines
were very emotional during their post-game cheer following the 3-1
win.

“We always do our cheer, and (Merchant) is the one who
says the ‘1,2,3’,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins
said. “Somebody else had to pick it up, and it made us get
all upset.”

Michigan junior Nicole Motycka, who was pitching in the game,
was visibly upset after the incident, but held strong for her 14th
victory of the season.

“(After Merchant got injured,) I wasn’t really
thinking anything about the game,” Motycka said. “I
just wanted her to be OK. She is a big part of the team, and I
almost want to say the heart and soul, because she loves the team
more than anything else in the world. So to see her not be able to
play in one of the biggest games of the year was kind of
heartbreaking.”

As she was leaving for the hospital, Merchant left no doubt
about what was on her mind.

“She wanted us to win, and that’s the last thing she
said before going off to the hospital,” Motycka said.
“So we wanted it pretty bad.”

Beyond playing through concern for their teammate, the
Wolverines also had to rely on Merchant’s replacement, senior
Angie Churchill, to come in ready to play. Churchill certainly did,
putting on a performance that, according to Motycka, merits the
title “MVP of the day.”

Churchill was 1-for-2 at the plate, drove home a run and made
several key defensive stops.

Her biggest highlight was a diving stop of Iowa first baseman
Sarah Thomson’s line drive in the top of the second.
Churchill’s stab prevented a base hit and probably further
damage. Once it got going, Iowa was difficult to stop, and this key
out destroyed any chance of the Hawkeyes building rallying in the
second.

“I’m really pumped up after I make a play like
that,” Churchill said. “It’s really important
that we make plays like that and we make the routine plays, because
maybe when the pitchers aren’t blowing it by them or hitting
their spots, they have to have confidence that they can put it in
there and we will make the plays.”

As of yesterday evening, there was no timetable for
Merchant’s recovery, so the Wolverines may need continued
success from Churchill if they hope to continue their run for the
Big Ten title.

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