YPSILANTI — It’s hard not to expect something
special whenever junior shortstop Jessica Merchant steps up to the
plate for the Michigan softball team. Hitting her 13th home run of
the season on Saturday against Ohio State to tie Michigan’s
single-season record, there is little doubt she will break the
record with more than 15 games left in the team’s schedule.
The real question is, by how much?

Yesterday, Merchant lived up to her home run-hitting hype after
smacking one in the second inning of the first game of the
doubleheader against Eastern Michigan, bringing in the first run
for the Wolverines.

What her teammates didn’t realize when they got up from
the dugout to greet her at home plate was that they would be back
out of their seats on the very next hit — only this time it
was to bring junior pitcher Nicole Motycka home.

Motycka connected with the first pitch from Eagles pitcher
Michelle Lloyd, hitting a home run over the left-field wall at
nearly the exact same pace that Merchant’s ball had gone.

Having to step up to the plate after watching her teammate hit a
home run seemed to have an effect on Motycka.

“It’s definitely a challenge to keep up my intensity
after watching a home run get hit just ahead of me,” Motycka
said. “But (Lloyd) threw the exact same pitch as she had
given Merchant, and I just really wanted to hit it.”

Motycka’s home run was her fourth this season. While she
trails Merchant by ten homers, she has recently been proving to
make solid intra-team competition.

Two weeks ago, Motycka began her home run rally by slugging
three in a single game against Purdue. She and Merchant, who hit
three homers in the home opener against Bowling Green, are the only
players to slug three home runs in a single game in Michigan
history.

She’s back: Sophomore third baseman Grace Leutele returned
to the team yesterday after an extended break from playing due to
an injured hamstring sustained in the game against Purdue two weeks
ago. She played in the first game against the Eagles and hit a
single in three at-bats, but was replaced by senior captain Angie
Churchill in the day’s second game.

“I don’t think she’s probably 100
percent,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.

“She made some nice plays defensively, but I took her out
because I didn’t want to take any chances with her on a day
like today. We had pinch runners available. I think she’s
looking a lot better. Whether she is good to go, I don’t know
for sure. She probably is, but the question is who is more capable
at this point.”

“I was really anxious to get back here,” Leutele
said. “I’m not completely recovered. Running is really
the hardest thing for me to do right now. I was basically hobbling
down the first-base line. But overall, I’m just glad to be
back.”

We’re going Streaking: After winning both games in their
doubleheader yesterday, the Wolverines improved their record to
35-6 and are currently enjoying an 18-game winning streak.

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