LOUISVILLE, Ky. ­— In a very uncharacteristic manner, Michigan senior Jessica Merchant struck out in her first two at bats in the Wolverines’ first game against Louisville on Saturday. But despite her early troubles, Merchant could be contained for only so long.

With Michigan up just 1-0 in the sixth inning, Merchant knocked in what would be the game-winning run for the Wolverines, scoring senior Michelle Teschler on a fielder’s choice to second.

But Merchant wasn’t done. During the Wolverines’ 7-0 win in the championship round against the Cardinals, Merchant set the tone early, hitting a two-run homer to grab a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. She kept the pace all game and finished with two hits, two runs and three RBI.

“It was my pitch selection,” Merchant said. “The first game, I was swinging at balls outside of the zone. I had some adjustments to make, and I made them going into the second game.”

Merchant’s fielding seemed to work in the opposite way, shining earlier in the day before struggling a bit in the end. In the sixth inning of the first game, Louisville sophomore Jenn Skaggs hit a grounder toward the left side of the field that deflected off Michigan third baseman Grace Leutele’s glove. Merchant backed up Leutele and fielded the ball from her knees, throwing it over to first just in time to get Skaggs out. In the second game, Merchant dove to the third base side to snare a line drive hit by Cardinal junior Lacy Wood.

But Wood got her revenge in the second game. In the sixth inning, she hit a shot that Merchant couldn’t handle and reached base on what was ruled an error. Then, Wood advanced safely to second when Michigan pitcher Jennie Ritter threw a fielded ball just above Merchant’s outstretched glove as she stood on second waiting for the force out.

“The one ball, I made an error on — she hit it hard,” Merchant said. “But we’re taught to play defense with our feet, and I definitely got a little lazy. I just need to stay down, and everything will be fine.”

Do get mad, get even: In the fourth inning of the first game, Wolverine freshman Alessandra Giampaola went to take a slap bunt and got hit by the pitch from Cardinal pitcher Aja Sherman. The ball hit her square on the hands and forced her to sit on the ground for minutes before she got up to run to first.

“It kind of made me mad because they came close to hitting me a couple of times,” Giampaolo said. “It just made me want to hit it a little harder each time. It kind of was my motivation.”

Giampaolo managed to put the motivation to good use with a solid second game. In her second at bat, she smashed a line drive to center field, driving home sophomore Rebekah Milian.

Later, Giampaolo started off a three-run inning for Michigan in the bottom of the sixth. She knocked a stand-up double to left center that hit the wall on one bounce and then scored thanks to a Merchant single.

Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said she was pleased to see that Giampaola did not let the shake-up get to her.

“I think Alessandra’s a really tough kid — she’s a player,” Hutchins said. “I was very concerned, but she came back, and I’m sure she was sore. She’s just tough, and I love her approach to the game.”

Notes: Michigan’s three hits in the first game of Saturday is its lowest total all season … This is the second straight victory in the Louisville Classic for the Wolverines and their third crown in four years. Michigan is 12-0 all-time at the tournament.

 

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