Merrill girls turn East tables but fall to state-ranked SPASH
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.
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.
Black day at Panthers
The Jays needed a big win at WVC co-champ SPASH – the state’s 6th-ranked team at 20-5 – in Thursday’s regional final to keep their season alive.
Fourth-seed Merrill improved to 10-9 with the East victory, but all year seemed to raise its game to the level of the competition. MHS had also played Point tough the past couple of years, but the Panthers broke free this time for a 10-1 victory.
“We wanted 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 played them as tough as anybody in conference this year.
“The game was pretty tight through five innings, but we had some missed opportunities that lead to them blowing it open in the bottom of the sixth. Aubrey Drohner did a very nice job of mixing in a change-up in any count, which helped keep us off balance. We weren’t able to ever really get a rally going due to that. Our girls did a pretty solid job of putting together quality at-bats, but we never were able to consistently square up on the ball.
“SPASH did a good job of putting the ball in play and they are always good at putting pressure on a defense. They had quite a few softly hit balls fall in throughout the early portion of the game, and by the sixth inning they were able to square up and really make that hurt.”
The Panthers caused pain with two- and three-run homers in a six-run sixth.
MHS did score in the third when Mariah Turenne singled. stole second, moved up on Reegan Byer’s grounder and got home on a Leesha Kleinschmidt hit.
The Jays needed to be at their best, but fell short.
“We knew coming in that it would take a very clean game by us and we didn’t get that,” Ellenbecker said. “I am very happy with this group of girls, though. Players have been asked to move around and play positions that they aren’t familiar with throughout the year and they rolled with it and did what they could to help the team. Considering the lack of varsity experience we had, especially in the outfield, I felt that we had a pretty solid season.
“You always want to win more games, and you can look back and point to this game and that game and say shoulda, woulda, coulda, but when it came down to it we had a group of girls who played as a team and did what they could to make us successful.”
Merrill– 001 000 0–1.
SPASH– 001 306 x–10.
MP: Makayla Heckendorf – 6 I, 12 H, 2 W, 1 K, 10 R, 7 ER. MH–5 H, 1 W; Byer 2-3; Turenne 1-2; Kleinschmidt 1-3, RBI; Leonna Ives 1-3.
The Bluejays closed out a 10-10 season, and tied for fifth in the Valley at 4-8.