Author: Dan O'Meara / John Heider
Farmington Hills Mercy came through in the clutch Saturday to win a regional softball championship with a nailbiting, 3-2 victory over Waterford Kettering.
In the seventh inning of a tie game at Novi High School, the season was on the line for the Marlins, and the pressure was on junior pitcher Andrea Elmore.
The Captains, who had already scored the tying run (2-2) in that inning, had the bases loaded with one out, following an intentional walk to lead-off batter Madison French.
Elmore struck out the next batter and went to a full count on Katie Root. It all came down to the next pitch. Root hit a line drive that was speared by shortstop Shannon Gibbson to end the threat.
"When it's a full count, I think, 'Who wants it more,' and I always believe I want it more," Elmore said.
Senior catcher Alex Sobczak, who will play at Michigan next year, went to speak with Elmore in the circle in that situation.
"She always comes out to tell me I'm really good," Elmore said. "It just helps me with the nerves. She's a great captain, a great team player.
"My teammates were great. I really needed them, and it was just amazing. I was shaking a lot, but I had to get it done for my team."
Though it put Elmore and the Marlins in a tight spot, Mercy coach Alec Lesko said the walk to French seemed like the right thing to do.
"There are certain times you look in the other dugout and say, 'There are one or two kids over there that you're not going to let beat you,'" he said.
"I know the kid; she's a great player. It's one of those times when you don't let her do it. Plus, it set up a force play at the plate."
The Marlins rallied in the top of the eighth to win the game with Nicole Belans' RBI triple that scored Jordan Johnson, who started the half inning with an infield single and was sacrificed to second by Molly Murphy.
The fly ball by Belans landed just inside of the chalk down the right-field line. She also made the game-ending putout in the bottom of the eighth when she caught a low, soft liner with the web of her glove.
"She's a sophomore who just continues to do the right things," Lesko said. "Her defensive skills have improved. She's a contact hitter; she's batting nearly .400 for us.
"She loves to play, loves to be out here. She continues to get the job done, so we're real happy with that."
Elmore had been cruising along with a 1-0 lead and a two-hit shutout for much of the game. She struck out 10 and the only walk allowed was the free pass to French, the opposing pitcher.
Kettering began to stir offensively late in the game and had five of its seven hits in the sixth and seventh innings.
French hit a lead-off triple in the sixth and scored on a single by the next batter, Sara Brackins. Weston started the seventh with fly ball that dropped in short right field. She scored the tying run on Taylor Reno's one-out single.
Elmore retired the side in order in the eighth, but the Captains (29-13) put the ball in play. Emma Colegrove hit a fly ball to left fielder Sophia VanAcker, and Gibbons caught another line drive off the bat of Brianna Larkin.
Unlike the first game Saturday, Mercy (26-3) was on the scoreboard right away. Alex Sobczak started the game with a fly ball to deep left field that was dropped for an error, putting her on third base.
Van Acker followed with an RBI single. Sobczak scored the second run in the fifth inning, too. After she drew a lead-off walk, consecutive singles by VanAcker and Abby Krzywiecki produced a 2-0 lead.
The Marlins had 10 hits off French, who struck out five and walked two. VanAcker was 3-for-4; Krzywiecki, Belans and Anna Dixon were 2-for-4. Kettering's French and Reno went 2-for-3.
Mercy will return to Novi High School to play Clarkston in a Division 1 state quarterfinal game at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Marlins rally past Mustangs
In a regional semifinal game Saturday, the Marlins rallied in the seventh inning of a scoreless game to defeat Northville, 4-0.
In a pinch-hitting role, senior Anna Kiafoulis won the game with a bases-loaded triple to the warning track in left-center field.
Mercy loaded the bases with no outs on Cari Padula's lead-off double, a walk to Belans and a bunt single by Dixon.
"We needed somebody to drive the ball at that moment instead of somebody who puts it on the ground and runs fast," Lesko said. "And that's what Anna does. She fouled off a few and then she got inside of one and hit it in the gap."
Lesko said he debated who to put in the role of designated player and decided it would be Padula.
"If I used Cari in that spot, I could use Anna at any time," he said. "That seemed like the time and she responded. It was probably the biggest hit we've had in a long, long time."
Gibbons re-entered as a pinch runner for Kiafoulis and scored the fourth run on a wild pitch. Johnson and Padula were 2-for-4.
The Marlins had eight hits off Northville pitcher Allison Zwarka, who had them hitting mostly pop flies for easy outs until the seventh inning.
Elmore allowed just four hits, struck out four and walked three. Zwarka, who had two strikeouts, issued half of her six walks in the seventh, though Padula was the only one who scored.
The Mustangs (24-12) left two runners on base in the first inning and loaded the bases with nobody out in the second. Mercy got out of the jam with a force at the plate, a flyout and another play at the plate.
Makenzie Kamm tried to scored on a two-out fly ball by Sara Moos, but Murphy made a perfect throw from center field to Sobczak.
Northville's hits were all singles by Moose, Ashley Schiffer, Zwarka and Kamm.
Mercy won its first regional and will make its first quarterfinal appearance since 2007. In recent years, the Marlins have had difficulty getting through the regional.
In his second year in the program and being a first-year head coach, Lesko wasn't around for most of that.
"Ninety percent of the people involved with Mercy were telling me about it all week," he said. "I said, 'That doesn't matter to me. I don't really care who's in the other dugout.'
"If we take care of our own business, I think we have a chance to win any time. So we did and I'm happy."