The Merrill girls opened the playoff series as the third-seeded team in a 14-team bracket, but nothing is assured to teams in the one-and-done post-season.
Fourteenth-seeded Wausau West was looking for just that upset after scoring a run in the top of the first inning, and robbing Merrill of at least a tying run in the bottom of the frame.
But the Bluejays exploded for five runs in the bottom of the third, added a sixth in the fourth and were the only ones to come close to scoring again. The Warriors never really threatened after that opening burst, due to strong pitching from Makayla Heckendorf and rock-solid defense.
“We settled down, we played good defense and we strung enough hits together in that third inning and that made the difference,” MHS coach Matt Ellenbecker said. “A win is a win and we’re happy to get out of here with a 6-1 win.
“We put the bat on the ball and hit the ball hard. That first inning Brooke (Bushor) starts off with a big hit and Leonna (Ives) hits one right on the nose but their left-fielder makes a nice play sliding in. That’s going to happen. But we strung those hits together, hit some gaps in the third inning. Makayla pitched a great game but she hit a big three-RBI double to right field. Defensively, we made that big double play. Our infield looked sharp.”
Merrill had already taken a 2-1 lead on RBI singles from Maddix Bonnell and Chelsey LaMonica, before Heckendorf drilled a high liner to deep right-center to clear the full bases. Ives ripped a sharp single down the left-field line in the fourth, scoring Cassandra Casper, who had doubled a moment earlier.
After a couple of days of rain, possibly the biggest question was if they could even play the game.
The venue was changed to the far southwest diamond at the MARC, but after some serious pre-contest prep, it pulled off without a hitch.
“With all the week we’ve had, it was nice,” Ellenbecker said. “The music’s not playing, there’s no announcer. I mean we had girls out here at 1:30 this afternoon throwing down dust and raking just to get this thing ready. We had other high school students and coaches out here, so it was not a typical game day.”
Heckendorf scattered 4 hits, walking 1 and striking out 8. The run was earned.
Pacing the Jays’ offense were Ives (2-4), Casper (1-2, 2B) and Heckendorf (1-3, 2B, 3 RBI).
Merrill faces the winner of Wednesday’s East/Everest game.
“Everest was the higher seed,” Ellenbecker said. “But East has a pitcher that, when she’s on, can beat good teams.”