By Kelly O’Day
In easily one of the best runs ever for a Merrill softball team, the Babe Ruth 10U team played all the way to finals of the Ohio Valley Regional held in Mount Sterling, Ken., last week before finally getting eliminated.
“When we went down there I expected to win a game or so,” Merrill manager Hugh Krueger said. “Mark (Weix), Jason (Krueger) and I didn’t know what we were going to run into.
“But after the first game, we realized we could play with anyone. That gave us a big boost of confidence. I think those teams found out that the town of Merrill, Wisconsin, can play ball up here. We got a lot of compliments from other teams.”
Merrill posted a 2-1 record in pool play and earned the #3 seed of 11 teams in the process.
“We probably had the toughest bracket in pool play,” Krueger understated. “We had both teams in the championship and Angola was good, too. But anybody could beat anybody down there.”
From there the girls defeated #6 seed Homewood, Ill., by a 3-1 score, and the defending Ohio Valley champs and #2 seed Fern Creek, Ken., 5-0, in the semi-finals. Both games were played Saturday.
But Merrill ran into its nemesis Okolona, the #4 seed, and lost Sunday’s 4-0 title game.
“Most of the girls took it to heart,” Krueger said. “They were upset. My philosophy is it sucks to lose. But we went 9-2 in two tournaments, (including Babe Ruth state) and took second place in the Ohio Valley Regional against teams we had never seen before.
“After an hour or so we regrouped and we realized we gave it a good run. I told them, ‘You can keep your heads up and be proud.’ Hey, maybe it’s something to shoot for for next year. If we can get back there next year or the year after, we know what to expect. This group is awesome. They’re very coachable. We’re a team.
“The girls had an experience they’ll always remember and the families had a blast. Everything went very smooth.”
The coaches gave their girls some extra incentive to reaching Sunday’s finals-they promised to join in the ‘Pump It Up’ pre-game ritual, where the girls would make a circle and rise up from a crouch into a standing cheer.
“We told them if they made the championship game, we would get in the middle and do it with them,” Krueger said.
Okolona had edged Merrill 2-1 in the final game of pool play on Friday, and this one would remain scoreless until a four-run Okolona fourth on three hits and an error.
Merrill would never get on the board, although the girls appeared to score right away in the bottom of the first when Maddix Bonnell singled, stole second and attempted to score on Calli Oberg’s hit. Calie Johnson singled and reached scoring position in the second, but stranded there.
“The outfielder made an excellent throw but Maddix had a great jump,” Krueger said. “I thought she slid under the tag.”
Oberg (2-3) paced Merrill, and Bonnell, Johnson and Mercede Valliere also had hits.
Taylor Krueger (1 H, 0 W, 2 K in 3 I) and Bonnell (4 H, 1 W, 2 K in 3 I) shared pitching duties, as they did all tourney.
“They pitched great all tourney,” Krueger said. “Taylor spots it up and her ball moves more. Maddix throws it hard. She brings it, ‘Can you hit me.’ ” Fern Creek up a crick
Krueger felt a turning point in the Fern Creek game was when the lead-off hitter singled, took second on a wild pitch and attempted to steal third.
“Calli (the catcher) threw her out on a great throw,” Krueger said. “I thought it changed the momentum right off the bat.”
Fern Creek stranded two other runners that reached third in the first two frames.
Three hits and an error helped Merrill score twice in the fourth, although a throw to the plate aided Fern Creek. But the girls backed it up in the fifth. Patience Pyan doubled, Molly Weix hit her home. Bonnell tripled but another throw gunned down Weix. Consecutive singles by Oberg, Krueger and Katie Nelson scored two more.
Weix (3-3), Bonnell (2-3, 3B), Nelson (2-3) and Pyan (2B) paced the Merrill offense at 11 hits and 4 walks. Krueger (2H, 1 W, 3 K) and Bonnell (1 H, 1 W, 5 K) split the duties.
Pyan walked, advanced on wild pitches and scored on an error at the start of the Homewood thriller. Nelson and Lindsey Casper walked in the fourth before Stephanie Schroder’s game-winning hit.
Both teams had two hits, but Merrill had seven free passes. Krueger (0 H, 0 W, 5 K) and Bonnell (2 H, 1 W, 3 K) worked clean.
Merrill trailed Okolona 2-1 after Oberg singled and scored in the fifth, and the girls loaded the bases before a grounder ended it. They put two runners in scoring position in the sixth, but three grounders stopped the rally.
Oberg (2-3) and Pyan (1-3) had hits. Kruger (1 H, 0 W, 3 K) and Bonnell (1 H, 0 W, 1 K) didn’t give up much.
Krueger was impressed with the way his team held up to temps in the 90??????°-100??????° range with a heat index of 105. Three runs in the first helped Merrill in their second game.
Bonnell (2-3), Oberg (2-3, 2 R) and Nelson (1-2) hit. Krueger (1 H, 0 W, 4 K) and Bonnell (2 H, 0 W, 4 K) allowed one run in the first of a 5-1 triumph.
New Palastine war zone
Merrill built a 5-1 lead through 4-1/2 innings, but their Indiana foe cut it to 5-4 with two in the fifth and one in the sixth.
Seven different girls had hits for Merrill. Bonnell doubled, and Weix walked three times of nine total for the squad.
Krueger (1 H, 1 W, 6 K) and Bonnell (3 H, 2 W, 7 K) were again efficient.