By Jared Schmeltzer
Wednesday night the Merrill softball team kicked off their postseason with a match-up against seven seeded Hayward. Merrill dominated the game, winning 10-0 in six innings, due in big part to Taylor Krueger’s shut down performance.
Merrill would strike early, scoring four runs in the first inning to get a jump on Hayward. A leadoff single by Kelsie Belfiori, followed by a Patience Pyan double and Maddix Bonnell walk, loaded the bases for the Jays. Taylor Krueger then singled to center field, scoring Belfiori and Pyan. Later in the inning Megan Shroder singled to center field to score Bonnell. A courtesy runner for Taylor Krueger would score the fourth run of the inning, coming off of a passed ball with two outs.
In the second inning the Jays added two more runs to their lead. Belfiori singled to start the inning, with a double by Bonnell moving her over to third base. A double by Calli Oberg would score both Merrill runners and bring the score to 6-0. In the bottom of the third inning Merrill added one run to their lead, coming on a sacrifice fly from Molly Weix to score Schroder from third base.
The Jays would increase their lead even further in the fifth inning with one run. Taylor Krueger led off with a single and would later score on a single by Ally Semling. Merrill would end the game in the sixth inning by scoring two runs to enforce the 10-run-rule. Belfiori led off the inning with a single and would later score on a Bonnell double. Oberg would then single, advancing Bonnell to third where she would score on a walk-off single by Krueger.
“We played well,” comments Merrill coach Matt Ellenbecker. “Fifteen hits and one strikeout… that’s a good recipe. It was great to jump on them early and keep pressure on them consistently each inning. Hayward actually made 3-4 outstanding defensive plays to take big hits away from us, so we earned everything we got. We used the whole field, peppering both gaps. That’s a great sign for us.”
Krueger pitched the whole game for Merrill without allowing a run. She would go six innings, giving up only four hits and striking out four batters while walking none.
“Our defense was sharp,” adds coach Ellenbecker. “Lindsey Casper and Molly Weix stood out particularly on defense, but everyone played a great, error-free game. Taylor was sharp in the circle. We ran the bases aggressively, but smart. It was a great way to start tournament play.”
Krueger would also lead the way for the Bluejay’s offense, going 3-4 at the plate with three RBI’s and two runs scored. Belfiori also had a three hit night, while scoring two runs. Oberg went 2-4 at the plate with a double, driving in two runners. Other noteable Merrill hitters include: Bonnell (2-4, 2 doubles, 1 RBI, 3R), Patience Pyan (2-4, double, 1R) and Schroder (2-3, 1RBI, 1R).
The Merrill softball team will host three seeded Rhinelander for a Regional Championship showdown tonight at the MARC, with first pitch at 4 p.m.
“This will be a challenging game for sure,” Ellenbecker said. “They have a solid crew, led by a set of twins who are seniors for them, Makayla and Stephanie Kuester. Those girls can really hit. We need to be sharp each pitch. They earned the three seed for a reason. It will be a battle.”