Just last Thursday, the Bluejay girls' softball dreams of a high finish in the Valley evaporated to a pair of one-run losses at Wausau East.
Flash forward five days, and it’s the Lumberjacks who won’t be sleeping that well. The Merrill girls pummeled pitcher Olivia Zipperer – who had been all but unhittable on Thursday – while racking up a 13-3 triumph that finished when Merrill had just one out in the bottom of the fifth. Merrill hosted the contest since the seeding meeting preceded the double-header that left East tied for third and Merrill tied for fifth in conference.
“The girls were definitely excited,” MHS coach Matt Ellenbecker said. “They were getting pumped up during the game. It was good to see.
“We brought the bats. We didn’t chase bad pitches. Early on they helped us out, but by the fourth inning we started teeing off by our big hitters and we had good at-bats by everyone. We even had courtesy runners taking extra bases. Everybody contributed. We haven’t 10-runned anyone all year.”
The Jays finished with 12 hits, including four for extra bases, including a three-run homer for Leesha Kleinschmidt on a 2-for-3 day, two doubles for Starr Krenzke in a 2-for-2 performance and a triple for Makayla Heckendorf in a 3-for-4 game with 3 RBI. Reegan Byer also hit 2-for-4.
In the meantime, Heckendorf limited East to just five hits, with no walks and seven strikeouts.
Merrill scored two in the first on Heckendorf’s triple, but East surged ahead 3-2 in the third. The Jays immediately knotted it up, took charge with super-charged fourth. Krenzke doubled, Leonna Ives walked, Byer singled in a run and Kleinschmidt drilled it over the fence.
The home team was back at it in the fifth, with Byer and Chelsey LaMonica singling around Kleinschmidt getting drilled with a pitch. Heckendorf singled a run home, walks loaded the bases and Krenzke ended it with a shot to the left-center fence.
The victory set up Thursday’s regional final against the state’s 6th-ranked and top-seeded SPASH (20-5) in Plover. Fourth-seed Merrill improved to 10-9, but all year seemed to raise its game to the level of the competition.
“We want another crack at SPASH,” Ellenbecker said. “A lot of groups would be a bit leery about that, but we beat them last year and we’ve played them as tough as anybody in conference this year.
“It’s going to take our best effort. But we’re as confident as we can be considering who we’re playing.
Wausau East 003 00x x--3
Merrill– 201 55x x--13.
MP: Heckendorf – 5 I, 5 H, 0 W, 7 K, 3 R, 1 ER. MH–12 H, 6 W; Heckendorf 3-4, 3B, 3 RBI; Kleinschmidt 2-3, HR, 3 RBI; Starr Krenzke 2-2, 2-2B, 2 RBI; Byer 2-4, 2R; LaMonica 1-3, 2R; Brooke Bushar 1-2, 2 W; Ashley Ollhoff 0-2, 2 W.