May 31, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Lindsay Montemarano, Michigan softball’s diminutive seven-hole hitter, was drilled squarely in the back by a pitch on Sunday. She didn’t wince. Instead, the 5-foot-3 junior dropped her bat, looked into the U-M dugout and roared,” Let’s go!”
The bench went wild.
“That’s her,” associate head coach Bonnie Tholl explained. “She got hit and celebrated it.”
Twenty-four hours after that pitch, Montemarano walked into the Michigan dugout on Monday and reported that all was well. “I don’t think the rods shifted,” she joked, referring to the minor matter of the two rods, four screws, two hooks and one titanium disc implanted in her lower back.
Being hit by the pitch during Michigan’s Super Regional victory over Missouri was no big deal to Montemarano. Her celebratory defiance, though, meant everything to her team. They know her story — how the Long Island, N.Y., native once thought her dreams of playing college softball would end on an operating table — and have seen the gnarly scar down the middle of her back.
They also know that they might not be here without her. Heading to the Women’s College World Series this week to face No. 10-seed LSU on Thursday (9:30 p.m., TV: ESPN2), second-seeded Michigan has leaned heavily on Montemarano through the postseason. Through five games, the junior has produced eight RBIs on six hits, scored four runs, and played flawless defense at third. She homered in each of last weekend’s wins overMissouri.
Not bad for a player who came to Michigan as a walk-on after her career was nearly derailed.
Three years after arriving, though, Montemarano has started 161 of 168 games at U-M.
“She has a little bit of that chip on her shoulder and it makes her a better player,” Tholl said. “Especially at third base, you have to have a little bit of that moxie, and she definitely has that.”
UCLA could have had it.
As a young multi-sport star growing up in Long Island, Montemarano narrowed her athletic future down to softball early in high school. Gritty and athletic, she became a top recruit.
As a sophomore at Seaford (N.Y.) High School, Montemarano committed to national power UCLA — the winningest program in NCAA softball history — while playing in a tournament in Los Angeles.
The decision was spontaneous. Montemarano was enamored with the fact that it was a big deal for an east coast softball player to land at UCLA. (On the current UCLA roster, 19 of 22 players are from California with three outliers being from Hawaii, Texas and Florida.) When the Bruins offered a 70 percent scholarship, she jumped on it.
But everything changed in February 2012.
While watching college games at a travel tournament, Montemarano experienced shooting pains down the back of her legs. She’d dealt with back issues she was younger, but this was different. When she returned to New York, she tried to avoid the issue but the pain grew unbearable.
“I knew something was wrong,” she now says. “It felt like someone was stabbing me in the legs. All I could do was sit in the tub or on a heating pad.”
The X-Ray revealed nothing. The MRI showed everything. Looking it over, Montemarano’s physical therapist sent her immediately to a back surgeon.
His first words?
“I don’t know how you’re walking.”
The disc in Montemarano’s back was so badly herniated that it took pieces of her L4 and L5 vertebrae off the bone, leaving them floating in her spinal column and pressed up against the nerve.
She went into surgery the following day. Supposed to last three hours or so, the procedure approached six hours when more and more problems were revealed. Then in the days after the surgery, blood clots formed in Montemarano’s spine and she returned for an emergency surgery, landing her in the hospital for five more days.
Four months of rehabilitation followed. In the first month, Montemarano couldn’t feed herself and had to be turned over every three hours through the night.
Even before the surgery, Montemarano was beginning to second-guess her commitment to UCLA. Now she was wondering if she’d play again, let alone at UCLA.
Those doubts were magnified when, according to Montemarano, she learned from UCLA coaches that her scholarship offer was likely to change and be reduced.
Thoughts of decommitting from UCLA went from consideration to concrete.
“It wasn’t the best situation, but I’m lucky how everything worked out,” she now says.
At Michigan, meanwhile, Montemarano was long off the radar. She had visited U-M during a tournament as a sophomore and garnered some recruiting interest, but was crossed off the list once she verbaled to UCLA.
For Montemarano, though, that visit resonated. She toured campus with Tholl and saw a potential fit. She never forgot that. So in July 2012, the summer before her senior year, Montemarano’s parents reached out to Michigan coach Carol Hutchins in July 2012. The recruit became the recruiter.
After calling the UCLA coaching staff to confirm Montemarano was available — decommitments are uncommon in softball and players rarely come available so late — Hutchins considered the addition. The fact was, though, Michigan’s 2013 class was full.
“I always knew Michigan was the school I wanted to go for — I always knew it,” Montemarano said Monday. “It that door was still open, I was coming.”
Montemarano committed as a preferred walk-on the next month. Then she went on to bat .717 with nine home runs and 18 stolen bases as a senior at Seaford. She was also named to the National Honor Society.
Now a three-year starter, Montemarano hit .318 this past season. She was named Second Team All-Big Ten and was the lone Wolverine to earn a spot on the All-Defensive Team.
“We knew that she had the potential to be really good if everything went well with her rehab,” Tholl said. “That’s what we’ve seen. She’s been a catalyst in a number of ways.”
And for the last two seasons, Montemarano has played on a partial scholarship.
At Alumni Field on Monday — a day after sparking her team in a Super Regional win and day before boarding a plane to the WCWS in Oklahoma City — Montemarano stopped to consider it all. Known for being loud and a bit brash, she slowed a bit to say, “It’s crazy, but obviously, everything happened for a reason.”
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