After reaching the state tournament for four straight seasons from 2012-15, the Mercy softball team didn’t even make it out of the district last year.
If Wednesday night is any indication, though, the Jaguars could be ready to make another regional run this year.
Mercy outlasted Butler 3-2 in nine innings at Shively Park in a matchup of Sixth Region and state powers.
“We had a pretty young team last year. The program’s used to being really good and we were down a little bit last year, so we’re looking forward to competing (this year),” said third-year coach Greg Meiners, whose team went 18-16 last season, ending with a 3-1 loss to Fern Creek in the 24th District Tournament semifinals.
The Jaguars, who are No. 12 in the Kentucky Softball Coaches Association’s Top 25, improved to 8-2 on the young season thanks to an outstanding effort in the pitching circle from Lexi Ray, some timely hits and one untimely Bearette error.
“We came out with a lot of confidence tonight and we were backing each other up at the plate and in the field, making good plays,” Ray said.
The junior right-hander, who has already committed to Tennessee-Martin, did her part. She gave up only three hits – just one in the first seven innings – while striking out 13 and walking one in a complete-game victory.
“We got into some pressure-packed situations and she worked her way out of them,” Meiners said. “She threw strikes and kept away from giving free bases, which is critical.”
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The first seven innings were a pitchers duel between Ray and the Butler senior tandem of Hailey Whitmer and Annabelle Ramirez. Whitmer, a right-hander who has signed with Northern Kentucky, gave up four hits while striking out eight in the first five innings. Ramirez, a righty who has signed with Lindsey Wilson, came on in the sixth and gave up only a single in the seventh inning before the game moved to the international tiebreaker rules – when a runner starts on second base – in extra innings.
Each team scored two runs in the eighth. Mercy’s came via RBI singles from sophomore Taylor McGowan and senior Melissa Collins. The ninth-ranked Bearettes (4-2) then rallied in the bottom of the inning thanks to Whitmer’s two-out, two-strike, two-RBI single.
In the ninth inning, the Jags had runners on first and third with two outs when third baseman Courtney Abbott fielded Jordyn Sanders’ grounder and threw to Erin Templeman at first base. The umpires ruled that Templeman bobbled the throw, though, which allowed the winning run to score.
Butler threatened in the bottom of the frame, but Ramirez was stranded at third when eighth-grader Kennadi Thompson fouled out to first to end the game.
“It’s a tough loss, but we’ll recover. I’m sure we’ll see them again in the region,” said Butler coach Brittany Braun, whose team had outscored its first five opponents by a combined score of 36-1. “Playing good teams like this gives you a lot of opportunities to learn things, so I feel like today was a good learning experience. We’ve got a lot of young kids.
“We didn’t get bunts down. We can’t have one hit (in seven innings), we all have to hit, that’s what it boils down to. Lexi hit her spots like she was supposed to. Good pitcher, good team, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
Mercy 000 000 021 – 3 8 0
Butler 000 000 020 – 2 3 1
W – Lexi Ray. L – Annabelle Ramirez (2-1). 2B – Madison Dykes (M), Jordyn Sanders (M), Lilly Davis (B). Records – Mercy 8-2, Butler 4-2.