BOWLING GREEN – The crowd gave an ohhhhh and an ahhhhhhh as they watched the ball soar through the air during the first inning.

Michigan Softball
Senior Jessica Merchant hit a game-winning homer in the first.
(TONY DING/Daily)

Facing a 2-1 count, Jessica Merchant had turned on a pitch from Bowling Green junior Liz Vrabel and cranked it over the left-centerfield fence.

“(Vrabel) went outside with the first two and the umpire called a strike that was little off the outside of the plate.” Merchant said. “So I moved up on the plate a little and just looked for the outside corner.”

With a 1-0 lead after the senior’s 11th homerun of the season, the No. 1 Michigan softball team never looked back, defeating Bowling Green 6-0.

Although the Wolverines jumped out on top early, Bowling Green (10-17) continued to stay close while Michigan (32-1) struggled to get into a flow offensively. Through the first six innings, the Wolverines mustered only three runs.

But in the seventh inning, the bats finally began to warm up as freshman Samantha Findlay hammered a homerun over the leftfield fence, and junior Tiffany Haas hit a homer to left-centerfield.

“I thought our at bats got better as the game went on, and that was a key for us,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “It still goes back to (the fact that) you need to play defense until you can get your offense going.”

The Wolverines did a solid job in the field with only two errors on the day. During the first inning, Haas had to go deep into the second-base hole to field a ground ball. Her throw to first was wild, which allowed Bowling Green sophomore Gina Rango to advance to second. Then, in the sixth inning, Merchant pulled her glove up a little too early, allowing a ground ball to trickle through her legs.

“It’s one of those plays that I know I should make, but I didn’t,” Merchant said. “I just had to laugh it off and worry about the next pitch.”

While the Michigan errors could have given Bowling Green a chance to climb back into the game, the Wolverines were able to clamp down on the following defensive sequences and not let their few mistakes hurt them.

Holding onto a 2-0 lead in the fifth, Merchant came through with a critical double-play turn. With one out and a runner on first, second baseman Haas fielded a tough ground ball and tossed it to Merchant, who was covering second. Then, on the turn to first, Merchant was able to whip the ball to Findlay, who made a nice stretch to stop any kind of Falcon momentum.

Hutchins told her pitchers before the game that they were going into the game as if it were a relief situation and they also needed to work on their pitches. Michigan saw three pitchers throw a combined one-hitter.

Senior Nicole Motycka started the game and held the Falcons to one hit and no runs in her three innings of work

“I think I improved in a lot of areas,” Motycka said. “I had better confidence today, my defense (behind me) really helped me out and my pitches were working a little bit better.”

Sophomore Lorilyn Wilson came in at middle relief for the win. And junior Jennie Ritter struck out six of the seven Falcons she faced and wrapped up the victory for the Wolverines.

With a taxing win yesterday, the Wolverines believe that their play is exactly where it should be as they transition into Big Ten play this weekend.

“I thought we played pretty well,” Merchant said. “The best thing is that we got better as the game went on, and, hopefully, we can carry that into the weekend.”

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