Ann Arbor, Mich.--After both being selected as finalists for the National Player of the Year Award Tuesday, Michigan Wolverines Jessica Merchant and Jennie Ritter proved their worth in a 6-2 win over intrastate rival and eighth seeded Michigan State on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament.
The senior Merchant led the offense going 3-4 and collecting three RBI and three runs scored. After senior Nicole Motycka drove in a run in the first, Merchant hit a three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the second inning to provide the Wolverines with a comfortable advantage. The homerun came after MSU starting pitcher Rachel Turney left the game after one inning of work, due to injury. Freshman Lesley Noel replaced her and finished the game.
Merchant's home run came after leftfielder Rebekah Milian slapped a single to the left of the sprawling Traci Nicosia at short. After Milian advanced on a passed ball and Grace Leutele walked, Merchant deposited the ball off the scoreboard in deep left field to give Michigan a 4-0 lead.
Ritter looked strong in the circle from the outset, striking out a pair of Spartans in each of the first two innings.
In the Michigan State half of the fourth inning, Elizabeth Peterson provided a long ball of her own. With one out and a 2-2 count, Peterson curled a ball just inside the leftfield foul pole to get the Spartans on the board.
With Michigan runners on second and third and two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Leutele hit a double to right-centerfield to score Merchant and rightfielder Stephanie Bercaw followed up with a single to left to score Leutele. After five innings, the Wolverines held a 6-1 advantage.
In the top of the sixth with two runners already out, Spartan freshman Jessica LeFevre stole second base after entering the game to pinch run for Janette Hurtado. With the runner now on second, Peterson grounded the ball to Merchant who over-threw the firstbaseman, allowing LeFevre to score from second, giving Michigan State its second run of the game.
Merchant made up for the error when the next batter, Nicosia stepped to the plate. Nicosia hit a sharp grounder towards the middle and Merchant dove to her left snagging the ball and tagging the base with her glove in one fell swoop.
Ritter earned two of her 11 strikeouts in the top of the seventh to end the game. The Player of the Year finalist went seven full innings allowing only two hits and a single earned run.
After entering the game for Turney, Noel went five innings giving up seven hits and five runs.
All of Michigan's scoring in the tournament's opening round came with two outs.
The Wolverines came in with a purpose this year after losing in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament last year in an almost identical situation. With the Wolverines as the No. 1 seed last year and the rival Spartans in the eighth spot, Michigan State upset the top-seeded Maize and Blue on their home field en route to winning the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines will now face the winner of the game between fourth seeded Ohio State and fifth seeded Wisconsin at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday. The Buckeyes and Badgers will meet in Friday's second game at 2:30 p.m. ET. Both of the top-ranked Wolverines scheduled games with Ohio State were cancelled due to inclement weather this season. Against Wisconsin in early April, the Maize and Blue were taken to the limit, winning a 3-2 eight-inning affair in their first meeting, before going on to win the second 8-0.
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