An injury can plague a team when it happens to a starter.
But the No. 6 Michigan softball team is different. The Wolverines have found an answer to what could have been a major hindrance to its season.
Junior shortstop Stephanie Kirkpatrick has been a starter since the first game of her freshman year. She started all but 12 games in her first two seasons, first at second base then at shortstop.
There didn’t seem to be a question in Michigan coach Carol Hutchins’s mind about where Kirkpatrick would be on game day this year. That shortstop position was hers.
But she missed those dozen games last season because of a knee injury — one that has now come back to close the books on her junior season.
“Basically she’s having surgery tomorrow (on her knee),”Hutchins said. “She’s out for the year.”
Now, the Wolverines’ answer to what could have been a huge obstacle for this season has come in the form of sophomore infielder Amy Knapp.
“Amy (Knapp) is our best option,” Hutchins said. “We just need Amy to play as well as Amy can. We don’t need her to try and be (Kirkpatrick). And I think she’s really capable.
“She’s a great ball player, she has great instincts and ball sense, which you need at shortstop.”
Knapp had a quiet presence last season, appearing in only four games, and did not make her collegiate debut until May 5 last season.
But despite being thrown onto the dirt at shortstop on Feb. 20 against Massachusetts, she helped Michigan (22-0 overall) take the FAU Kick-Off Classic Championship Game and hasn’t stopped being a main contributor.
Last weekend, Knapp went 1-3 against South Florida, driving in one run and crossing the plate once herself to help lead the Wolverines to a 7-2 victory — not to mention their fourth tournament championship and 22nd straight win.
It has still been a transition for Knapp, though, as she has had to make such a quick adjustment from occasionally playing second base earlier this season to starting every game.
“It’s difficult because I am in KP’s position, but I look forward to it every game,” Knapp said. “I work hard every game. I’m trying to work on a bunch of different things, but I just like being out there, not only helping my team off the field but on the field as well.”
Now Knapp must move toward being a leader on the team and she has big cleats to fill. But there is no one better to help her do that than Kirkpatrick.
“As much as she’s going through right now, (Kirkpatrick) is the one who’s been there and who keeps me going,” Knapp said. “She’s the one who’s been helping me out on the field, where I need to be at all times. I’m definitely going to miss that while she’s not here.”
The team knows Knapp is the right person to come in and make this position her own. With Big Ten play just two weeks away, Michigan can now focus on keeping its unblemished season going, instead of what could have been an impediment on their perfect start.
And Knapp is going to be a big part of that.
“Once we get her to be a little more vocal on the field, leading the troops, she’ll be really good,” Hutchins said. “She’ll get there. She has to get her confidence going, but I’m very confident that she can do the job for us.”