The Merrill girls softball team fell behind the state’s third-ranked SPASH 2-0 in the top of the first inning during Thursday’s battle of the two remaining unbeaten teams at the MARC.
But the Bluejays worked their way out of several jams throughout the rest of the game with infield and outfield stops, and rode another strong pitching performance from Makayla Heckendorf all the way to a 3-2 triumph.
Merrill knotted the game up in the fifth inning after a double by Heckendorf and walk to Brooke Bushor, a sacrifice bunt by Emily Travis and a two-run looper by Mariah Turenne. The Jays reached the seventh in the same 2-2 tie. Cassandra Casper ripped a lead-off single up the middle, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out smashed liner to the left-field fence by Chelsey LaMonica, setting off the celebration.
“That was fun, for sure,” MHS coach Matt Ellenbecker said. “It was a big confidence boost to not just play with them, but to come back from two runs down and beat them. That was huge. I guess it just goes to show we can play with teams like that.”
The Panthers fueled their early start with three hits and a couple of stolen bases.
“Makayla was lights out after that,” Ellenbecker said.
He also pointed to a huge play late in the game when Calle Johnson in left field hurt her hand trying to field a shot, and the ball got away to the side fence. But centerfielder Turenne hustled all the way over and threw to Heckendorf covering third, who applied an off-balance tag.
“An 8-1 put-out at third for the first out in an inning?” Ellenbecker mused at the unlikelihood of the event. “That was big. The next girl got a hit.”
Merrill ended up out-hitting SPASH 10-7. Heckendorf (7 H, 1 W, 4 k, 2 R, 2 ER in 7 I) earned the victory, and she helped her cause by hitting 3-for-3 with the double and run scored. LaMonica finished 2-4.
Merrill improved to 4-0 in the Valley, while Point dropped to 3-1. The Jays are 5-1 overall.