By Nick Beversdorf
It was one of the toughest losses they have ever experienced. From the fourth inning to the last frame the Bluejay fast-pitchers lead the game and very nearly had the game in the bag. Unfortunately, their opponent, Northwestern/South Shore, pulled three extra runs at the bottom of the seventh, taking the lead and victory from the Bluejays in one fell swoop. The final score was 4-3 with Merrill generating six hits and committing two errors.
While the sectional championship game was held in Merrill, a coin toss decided that the Northwestern/South Shore Tigers would be the home team. The first three innings saw no runs. Both teams made good contact at the plate but the ball usually went straight to the other team’s defense.
At the top of the fourth, Merrill started to find the gaps in the Tigers’ defense, allowing them to slowly but surely load bases. It all culminated with Cassandra Casper batting in Chelsey LaMonica with a hard grounder to center, good for Merrill’s first run.
The game fell back into a relative stalemate until the top of the sixth where Merrill got two more runs. It started with Calli Oberg batting in Leonna Ives with a line drive to center. After Madisen Weix was put in as a courtesy runner for Oberg, Kelsie Belfiori hit a hard grounder to center, allowing Madisen to score.
The Tigers got their first run at the bottom of the sixth off a line drive but the Bluejays quickly shut down the inning. After a scoreless top of the seventh, it simply came down to defense for the Bluejays.
Unfortunately, Merrill was not able to stop the hits and runs. The Tigers got runners on third and second bases with a grounder and a line drive, and then a line drive to right drive both runners home. With the score now tied, a walk put a runner on first. The next batter bunted for a base hit. The ball was erred, however, and the Tiger runner from second was able to round third and beat the throw to the plate to score the winning run.
Even with the loss, head coach Matt Ellenbecker is happy with how the girls played that night.
“I’m happy with the way the girls came out and played,” he says. “It wasn’t our perfect game, but we took on a foe who had been smashing some very good teams throughout the playoffs and we outplayed them for 6 1/2 innings. We know as well as anybody that you need to play 7 complete to win big games and Northwestern did enough in the bottom of the 7th to come out on top.
“With their 8 and 9 hitters leading off, it was important to get an out right away, but what was essentially a swinging bunt got things going for them and then the nine hitter did a nice job driving a pitch to the right center gap. We didn’t play a perfect seventh, but you can’t say we gave them the game. They hit the ball when they needed to.
“Especially after the 6th inning when we came out hitting to build our lead a bit, we felt good. We had a senior leader, Leonna Ives, for the second straight night get things going for us in the sixth, and Calli Oberg made a slight adjustment after just getting underneath the ball her first two at-bats to smash one off the fence. We felt good. We put ourselves in a good spot, but it wasn’t enough.”
Although a loss, there was no shortage of effort or skill anywhere on the diamond. The top hitters for Merrill include Belfiori (2H, 1RBI, 1BB), Oberg (1H, 1RBI, double), Cassandra Casper (1H, 1RBI, 1BB), Ives (1H, 1R) and Stephanie Schroder (1H).
Taylor Krueger pitched the whole game, striking out two, walking one, allowing seven hits and four runs-two earned. LaMonica worked first base with seven putouts. Other fielders that made an impact include Oberg (4PO), Cassandra (2PO), Lindsey (1PO, 4A), Ives (1PO, 1A), Belfiori (1PO), Krueger (1PO) and Johnson (1PO).
Even after a frustrating end to the post-season, the Bluejays still have much to be proud of. With the victory over Mosinee, this was the first time since 2012 that Merrill had been crowned Regional Champions. This was also the first time since 2007 that Merrill had made it to sectionals (both times Merrill was in Division 1).
“It’s hard to call this season anything but a success,” adds Ellenbecker. “We came in with a lot of spots to fill and a young team to work with. There’s no doubt that we had some games along the way that didn’t play out as we may have hoped, but the goal every year is to be better in late May/June than you were in April, and I don’t think there is any question that we made that happen. We developed our skills and abilities as individuals and as a team. We developed as teammates and supporters of one another. We became better competitors. It was a great team to be a part of. The 2016 Bluejay softball team certainly left its mark.”
Stats provided by GameChanger.
All-Conference and Team Awards
Leonna Ives-2nd team Infield
Emily Travis-1st team Utility
Kelsie Belfiori-2nd team Outfield
Cassandra Casper-Honorable Mention
Chelsey LaMonica-1st team Infield
Calli Oberg-Honorable Mention Catcher
Taylor Krueger-2nd team Pitcher
Maddix Bonnell-Honorable Mention Infield
Nora Trapp-JV Silver Slugger
Maria Pankow-JV Bluejay Award
Chelsey LaMonica-Varsity Bluejay Award
Allie Becker-JV Teammate Award
Cassandra Casper-Varsity Teammate Award
Calli Oberg-Varsity Most Improved Player
Kelsie Belfiori-Varsity Gold Glove Award
Maddix Bonnell-Varsity Gold Glove Award