Merrill’s American Legion Post 46 baseball team kicked off a fresh season with a rout of Rhinelander last Thursday and a 7-2 triumph over Rothchild/Schofield/Weston on Monday.
The locals fit Monday’s contest in before the raindrops, taking charge with a pair of three-run home runs, the first a no-doubt shot from Mason Reinhardt in the third inning and the second a moon ball from Dakota Ress that spun the left-fielder like a top in the fifth.
“Mason’s hom run was big,” Merrill manager Dave Pyan said. “It put us up 4-0. Dakota’s gave us the breathing room to close the game out. 
“This is a good team. I’ve got 16 kids that all can play. It’s hard to get them all in. They’ve got to play together and they’ll be all right.”
RSW had threatened to score first in the third, but a heads-up throw from first-baseman Mitch Stockowitz to the plate killed one chance and pitcher Justin Pyan popped up two batters around a ground out. 
“Mitch made a good play to gun down the runner at home,” Pyan said. “Mason is so solid at catcher that the kids will take their chances throwing to him.”
Shortstop Ty Grunenwald doubled a runner off first base after snagging a hot liner in the fourth, but RSW cut it to 4-2 in the fifth with three solid doubles. 
David Pophal was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the fifth, and after a fielder’s choice on a hot Grunenwald grounder, Tom Zuelsdorff singled to put two on base. Ress hit his towering fly to push it up to 7-2
Pyan settled down in the sixth, then gave way to Brad Juhlke in the seventh for the close.
“We got a good pitching performance from Justin,” Dave Pyan said. “He got a little tired in the end, but we expected to use Juhlke for the game anyway.”
RSW–   000 020 0–2. 
Merrill–   004 030 x–7. 
MP: Pyan 6 I, 7 H, 2 W, 1 K, 2 R, 2 ER; Juhlke 1 I, 0 H, 1 W, 3 K. MH: 7 H, 2 W, 1 HBP; Zuelsdorff 2-2, RBI; Reinhardt 1-3, HR, 3 RBI; Ress 1-3, HR, 3 RBI; Grunenwald 1-2, 2 R.
Hunting Hodag

Pophal was dominant on the mound, no-hitting Rhinelander. He pitched out of the one jam – in the second when an error and two walks loaded the bases – with a pair of strikeouts. 
In the meantime, Merrill bumped its meager 1-0 lead to 7-0 with a six-run fourth on Thursday. Keenan Stellingworth ended it early at 11-0 with a three-run double in the fifth with just one out.
“It was close for three innings, then we got a couple of walks, an error and we started to hit the ball,” Pyan said. “We came up with the big hit or a walk when we needed them. 
“We played heads-up. Almost everybody got to play and they would have if it had gone seven innings. 
“David was unbelievable that night. He just didn’t give them a chance to get back in the game.”
Rhinelander– 000 00–0. 
Merrill–        100 64–11.
MP: David Pophal 5 I, 0 H, 2 W, 9 K, 0 R, 0 ER. MH: 9 H, 4 W; Stellingworth 1-1, 2B, 3 RBI; Grunenwald 2-3; Pophal 2-4, 3 R; Cole Gustke 1-2, 2B; Zuelsdorff 1-3, 2 R.