Bluejay girls close conference on an even keel
The Bluejay softball team ended up exactly at the .500 mark after a whirlwind finish to their Valley season with double-headers with East and West around a Rapids’ game last week.
The Jays captured the second game of both double-headers to end up 6-6 in the WVC and 7-8 overall. East tied with Merrill for 3rd, while West and Rapids tied for 5th at 4-8 each.
Merrill lost a 3-2 opener on Saturday at West-Tuesday’s regional opponent in Merrill-then battled back for a 5-3 win.
“We didn’t finish the year as strong as we would have liked, but we know that we can win tough, low-scoring games, as we have found ourselves in those situations many times” MHS coach Matt Ellenbecker said.
The Jays got on the board with Lindsay Krueger’s RBI double in the 1st, but West tied in the 2nd. Brianna LaMonica doubled and scored in the 4th, but the Warriors knotted it in the bottom of the inning and won it in the 7th.
“Another low-scoring game,” Ellenbecker said. “A couple of doubles helped us put runs on the board. We haven’t been hitting extremely well all year, but in our West and East games we just look uncomfortable up there.”
Makayla Heckendorf (9 H, 2 W, 6 K, 3 ER in 6 I) took the loss. Five Merrill batters had a hit.
A 3-run 1st boosted the Jays in Game 2.
“We were able to jump on them early on in the first and chip in a couple of runs with small ball later,” Ellenbecker said. “We cut down our strikeouts in this game and drew a couple of walks, which bodes well for us.”
Leesha Kleinschmidt (1 H, 6 W, 2 K, 2 R, 1 ER in 4-1/3 I) pitched her first time on varsity in Game 2, and won. Heckendorf (1 H, 0 W, 5 K, 1 ER in 2-2/3 I) got the save.
“Leesha did extremely well, only giving up one hit as they struggled to adjust to the change of speeds,” Ellenbecker said. “We brought Makayla back in the fifth when Leesha tired a bit and the adjustment back was a struggle again.”
LaMonica (2-3, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI), and Casey Steffen (2-3) helped MHS to 8 hits.
The Lumberjacks had just enough to grab Game 1 2-1 in last Tuesday’s home twin-bill.
“One run isn’t going to win you many games, although Makayla and our defense made a run at it,” Ellenbecker said.
Kleinschmidt singled and scored in the 4th with help from passed balls. A error and double led to East’s 1st run and a solo homer won it.
Heckendorf (2 H, 4 W, 7 K, 2 R, 1 ER in 7 I) lost. Reegan Byer doubled, and 4 others hit.
Merrill trailed 1-0 until tallying 3 in the 6th with LaMonica, Krueger and Kleinschmidt singles, and quality base-running on passed balls, especially courtesy runner Brooke Arneson reaching 3rd from 1st when Krueger scored.
“From a quality at-bat standpoint, this was our worst night at the plate all year,” Ellenbecker said. “Our timing was off. We had over a third of our strikeouts in conference play in these two games. East has a couple of quality pitchers, but they aren’t overpowering to the level that we made them look.
“I did like the way we finished the game. With a two-run lead, the last way you’d like to start the seventh inning is by giving up a walk, a HBP, a single and then botch an infield fly play. To our girls’ credit, we settled in, made good pitches, and got the three outs. As a group we have been able to stay pretty cool in situations like that over the last couple weeks.”
Heckendorf (10 H, 1 W, 2 K, 2 ER in 7 I) won. Kleinschmidt (2-3) and Katie Travis (2-3) helped MHS reach 7 hits, but the Jays struck out 13 times.
Merrill trailed the Raiders 5-0 in the 4th on Friday, when they notched 4 runs, with a Byer double, Starr Krenzke RBI hit, Krueger 2-run homer, and 3 more singles. But Rapids eventually won 8-5.
“We’re not going to get 6 hits every inning, but we need to find a way to get more runs across the plate,” Ellenbecker said. “We probably ran ourselves out of a couple of scoring opportunities in this game. Generally, I am for aggressive baserunning, but with the reigning First-Team All-Conference catcher behind the plate and our #3 and #4 hitters up to bat, we probably want to see the ball get away from the catcher a bit more before we take that chance.”
Heckendorf (8 H, 5 W, 2 K, 8 ER in 7 I) took the loss. LaMonica (2-3, 2B), Ashley Ollhoff (2-3), Byer (2-4, 2B) and Krenzke (2-4) pushed MHS to 10 hits.