Merrill softball plays hardball with early-jump opponents

The Merrill girls proved Thursday that neither a lack of field time nor a late-game deficit could intimidate them as they bounced back for a 9-6 triumph over Wis. Rapids.
The rally kids came from behind again on Monday, pulling out a 12-5 home triumph over previously unbeaten Medford.
Playing out of their air-conditioned dug-out at Ott’s Park (the tornado ripped the top half off the South dug-out, and the Bluejays allowed their foes to use the remaining full one), the girls bounced back from Thursday’s 6-3 shortfall with a four-run fifth. They then put Rapids in a last-chance hole with two more in the sixth.
“I just think they believe in each other and they believe if they keep playing hard, good things are going to happen,” MHS coach Dave Brandvold said.
“The kids are really confident the coaching staff will be behind them. Our girls are working so hard and are really having a lot of fun together. They’re a great bunch of kids.”
The Jays improved to 2-1 in the WVC and overall while dropping Rapids to 1-2 and 3-2.
Merrill caused serious problems for two different pitchers in the game, chasing starter Kelsey Kuhn after just 1-1/3 innings and knocking out six earned runs on Erica Langhoff over the final 4-2/3.
“That was kind of nice,” Brandvold said. “We were all over Kuhn early, then we picked it up where we left off. It took a couple of innings, then we got to Langhoff, too.
“Every girl got a hit and they weren’t weak hits, they were shots. So hopefully our bats are starting to wake up.”
They were wide awake on Thursday, to the tune of 16 hits. Brianna LaMonica led the way, hitting 3-4 with a double and triple and 2 RBI. Chelsey Dorgan (2-3, 2-2B, 2 RBI), Hannah Ollhoff (2-3 2B), Lindsay Krueger (2-3, 2 R, 2 RBI), Kaylin Byer (2-3, 2 R) and Emily Heckendorf (2-4, 2 R) added multi-hit games.
Merrill responded to an early deficit, too. Rapids scored twice in the top of the first, but the Jays knotted it with a Krueger double, Heckendorf RBI single and Aly Brandvold run-scoring hit. In the second, LaMonica’s two-out single-the fourth consecutive by her team-drove in a run for a 3-2 edge.
Rapids grabbed a 6-3 lead after tallying one in the fourth and three in the fifth.
Merrill mounted a comeback with four in the bottom of the fifth. Lamonica kicked it off with a double to left center and Krueger singled her home. Heckendorf’s hit put two on and Kelsey Messerschmidt sac bunted them to second and third. Back-to-back singles by Dorgan and Ollhoff made it 7-6. All the hits were line shots.
Merrill provided cushion with two in the sixth. Byer singled and scored from first on LaMonica’s stand-up triple to right-center. Krueger’s RBI sac fly pushed it to 9-6.
Raider rally
The Bluejays quickly recovered from a rough start in Monday’s triumph. Four errors led to two Raider runs, but MHS answered with three in the second. Medford tied it in the third and moved ahead 5-3 in the top of the fourth, but Merrill cut loose with seven in the bottom of the frame.
“We hit the ball well but we had one inning where we just could not field or throw the ball,” Brandvold said. “Medford kept the ball in play with small ball and we just did not execute anything defensively. We cannot count on 12 hits per game. We have to be able to play great defense and pull out 3-2 wins also.”
Those hits came in handy on Monday. Heckendorf (4-4, 3B, 2B, 2 R, 2 SB) improved to .500 on the season and Dorgan (3-4, 2 R) bumped up to .600. Brandvold (2-4, 3B, 2B) and LaMonica (2-4, 2R) also came up big.
A Brandvold triple led off the big 4th, and it kept rolling with a Dorgan RBI hit, Ollhoff walk, Byer 2-run single, LaMonica hit, Krueger 2-run double and Heckendorf RBI double. Heckendorf pulled off a delayed steal of home for the 7th run.
“Eight of the nine girls picked up at least one base hit, and eight girls had at least one RBI tonight,” Brandvold said. “That is a telling statistic because it means everyone is getting good at bats with runners in scoring position. None of these hits are bloopers or flares. They are all solid drives into the alleys or line shots through the infield.
“We really do have stars defensively too. Kaylin and Lindsay are so tough up the middle. Kaylin just keeps making play after play at short stop. Our outfielders are making plays and holding runners to minimal bases. Brianna and Hannah are just steady.”
Brandvold (6 H, 1 W, 3 K, 5 R, 2 ER in 7 I) picked up the win. Merrill improved to 3-1 (2-1 WVC) and dropped Medford to 3-1.

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