By Nick Beversdorf
Except for a few games, Bluejay varsity softball usually wins handily with many runs to spare. Last Friday’s game against Medford was another exception, with Merrill narrowly defeating Medford with a final score of 2-1, mustering four hits and committing one error.
The game essentially came down to pitching and fielding. Both teams scored a run in the first inning and then the game became a stalemate; neither team would get past the other’s defense. The bottom of the sixth started out much the same as the other innings, with Merrill quickly getting two outs. However, Stephanie Schroder would hit a hard grounder to third which would allow Cassandra Casper to advance to third. The next play would see Emily Travis hit a popup to center that would go uncaught, allowing Cassandra to score the much-needed run.
With 2-1 on the board, Merrill pulled out all the stops to prevent a Medford run in the top of the seventh. Both Chelsey LaMonica and Calli Oberg would catch popups in foul territory for two outs, and Taylor Krueger would strike out the last batter to win the game.
“This was a battle between two very solid teams,” comments head coach Matt Ellenbecker. “We came out a bit sloppy defensively and helped them move a run around to take an early lead. Each team was able to score in the first inning, and it became a battle of pitching and defense after that.”
Top hitters include Cassandra Casper (2H, 1R, 1SB), Travis (2H, 1RBI), Maddix Bonnell (1H, 1R) and LaMonica (1H, 1RBI, double). Pitching and fielding was where the game was at. Krueger pitched a terrific game, striking out seven, walking none, allowing four hits and just one run. LaMonica lead the fielding effort with eight putouts and a double play. Other fielders include Oberg (6PO, 1A), Bonnell (2PO, 2A, DP), Kelsie Belfiori (2PO), Leonna Ives (1PO, 1A), Krueger (1PO, 1A) and Cassandr Casper (1PO).
“Taylor Krueger did a great job today of hitting spots and mixing speeds,” adds Ellenbecker. “Medford never was able to get anything going after that first inning and a big part of that was Taylor attacking her spots. She was able to record seven strikeouts without walking a batter. Many of those K’s came on well located curves and change-ups. Our defense settled in behind her and kept them from mounting any sort of serious threat.
“Offensively I thought we were a little off, but still recorded seven hits and four walks. We didn’t drive the ball like we know we can, but we came through when we needed it most tonight. That sequence in the bottom of the 6th was almost like a move script. Cassandra Casper gets a one-out single and takes 2nd on some smart, aggressive base-running on a pitch in the dirt. Senior Payton Waldburger pinch hits and smashes a line drive that the shortstop makes a nice play on and snags for the 2nd out. You thought your chance at a big senior night moment was dashed there. Then Steph Schroder pinch hits and smashes a single that the third baseman just does get a glove on to keep Cassandra from scoring. It was a nice effort from her to save a run. With two outs Emily Travis just did what she does. Went with a nice pitch and found grass in centerfield to plate the winning run. It was really a nice sequence of seniors and players coming off the bench to contribute to a win.
“It was a great win for our seniors and provides us momentum going into regionals,” Ellenbecker added. “We have one practice before it’s win or go home. The girls have been working hard for a long time, so hopefully we can get all areas of our game clicking at the same time and see where that takes us.”
Bluejay varsity softball ends the regular season third in the Valley Conference with an 8-4 record and a 15-10 record overall. They will have their first playoff game on Tuesday, May 24 at 5 p.m. against Northland Pines at the MARC.
Stats provided by GameChanger.