A state title was within the grasp of the Merrill Babe Ruth 12U softball team on Saturday, after the girls had knocked off the first three foes in their round-robin event.
They had defeated Wausau 4-2 earlier in the day in their closest game of the Marinette-based tournament, and just needed to seal the deal with a victory over Menominee, Mich.
They pulled it off with a 5-1 triumph that was never in jeopardy. Four runs scored in the bottom of the first inning gave the Merrill girls breathing room and they immediately matched Menominee’s 4th-inning tally with one of their own.
“We were there to win it,” Merrill manager Hugh Krueger said. “Anything less is not that team. It was worth the trip over there.
“That’s going to be a good ball team (in the future). You’ve got some teams where some kids think they are better than others. But there are no prima donas on that team. Somebody always picks somebody else up.”
With the championship, Merrill qualified for the Ohio Regional event to be held in Shelbyville, Ind., but the girls won’t continue.
“It’s just a conflict of scheduling,” Krueger said. “The top two guys from Ohio were there and they were pushing really hard for us to go because they knew we could compete. They felt we had a chance to win it and go on to the World Series.”
The team decided not to try due to conflicts on top of the travel and lodging expenses.
Merrill had opened the state tourney on Friday with a 5-0 win over Antigo and a 10-6 triumph over their hosts. After defeating Wausau, Merrill came out on fire in the deciding contest. Lindsey Casper and Patience Pyan singled to open the 1st, and Maddix Bonnell ripped a two-run double. Following Maria Pankow’s RBI single, Calli Oberg doubled home a 4-0 edge.
Menominee picked up its 2nd hit of the game in the 4th and moved up with a passed ball and ground out, and scored on a wild pitch.
“I took the run on that one,” Krueger said. “Taylor (Krueger) was ahead 0-2 in the count and I told her to pitch it high.”
Krueger (2H, 0 W, 5 K, 1 R in 4 I) won and Bonnell (0 H, 0W, 3 K in 2 I) relieved.
“Taylor and Maddix pitched very well (all tournament)” Krueger said. “Pitching and defense were our bread and butter.”
Bonnell (2-3, 2-2B, 2 RBI), Pyan (2-3), Pankow (2-3) and Oberg (1-3, 2B) led Merrill to 9 hits.
Krueger (0 H, 0 W, 0 R, 4 K in 4 I) stymied the Wausau bats, and Bonnell (1 H, 1 W, 2 K 2 R, 0 ER in 2 I) gave up a single hit. An error and passed ball strike-out helped Wausau score twice in the top of the 6th, when Merrill already held a 4-0 lead.
“We almost no-hit them” Krueger said.
Oberg doubled to lead off the 2nd, and scored on Krueger’s single. Calle Johnson pushed Krueger over with a hit and Steph Schroder drove her in with a single for a 2-0 start.
A Pyan single and two passed balls set up an Oberg RBI grounder for a 3-0 lead in the 3rd. A walk and error set the stage for an Oberg RBI single in the 5th.
Oberg (2-3, 2B) helped Merrill reach 6 hits.
After Merrill grabbed a 2-0 lead against Marinette, it quickly gave up 4 runs in the bottom of the inning. But the girls tied it in the 3rd, and added 5 more runs in the next 2 innings for a 9-4 lead.
Marinette cut it to 9-6 in the bottom of the 5th, but a Bonnell single and doubles from Pankow and Oberg bumped it up to 10-6. After Bonnell struck out the first two batters in the 6th, the host team loaded the bases on a walk and two singles, but a grounder ended it.
“We did not play well for an inning, then we shut the door,” Krueger said.
Pankow swung away in the game, hitting 3-3 with a pair of doubles and 2 RBI.
“Maria hit a bomb that I have never seen a 12-year-old hit,” Krueger said. “I thought it was going out of the park.”
Katelyn Nelson also batted 3-3 as Merrill notched 13 hits. Krueger (4 H, 1 W, 2 K, 4 R, 3 ER in 3 I) collected the win and Bonnell (3 H, 3 W, 5 K, 2 R, 0 ER in 3 I) closed it out.
The Antigo opener could have been much more than a 5-0 game. Merrill left the bases loaded in a scoreless 1st and stranded 5 runners while scoring 3 runs in the next two innings. Schroder hit an RBI single in the 2nd, and a Pankow single and Oberg grounder tallied the runs in the 3rd.
Krueger ripped an RBI double in the 5th for a 4-0 lead, and Casper grounded the final run home in the 6th.
Pankow (2-3) and Krueger (1-2, 2B) boosted Merrill to 6 hits. Krueger (1 H, 1 W, 1 K in 3 I) and Bonnell (0 H, 1 W, 4 K in 3 I) combined for a one-hitter.
The team especially enjoyed the softball complex in Marinette.
“What a beautiful ballpark,” Krueger said. “Out in the field, the ball doesn’t go to the ground. It’s plush.”