Merced College softball salvages split with Taft

slynch@mercedsun-star.comMarch 27, 2013 

Late-game drama is becoming a staple of the Merced College softball team.

The She-Devils' last two victories have come via a walk-off hit.

While the high-intensity battles might be prematurely graying head coach Suzanne McGhee, her team is carving out an identity of one with no quit.

Her squad was at it again on Tuesday night as sophomore first baseman Jae Bondi recorded her second walk-off hit in as many weeks. Bondi's single right on the left-field line gave Merced College a 4-3 victory and salvaged a doubleheader split with Taft at She-Devil Diamond.

"I think our comeback win over COS last week was a big confidence boost for everyone," Bondi said. "We proved to ourselves that this team doesn't have any quit.

"We kept creating chances all game, and I think everyone believed we were going to come out on top."

All it took was a little adjustment at the plate.

Taft's Jessica Neher frustrated the She-Devils, limiting them to four hits in a 2-0 victory to open the doubleheader.

Not much changed when she entered the nightcap in relief.

MC (12-17, 5-5 Central Valley Conference) threatened to go ahead in the fifth and sixth innings, but Neher managed to sidestep the danger each time.

Bondi finally got to her in the bottom of the seventh.

"We told the kids going into the inning that she was going to just keep pounding them in on the hands and that we needed to adjust," McGhee said. "Jae went up there looking for it and managed to do something with it.

"As soon as I saw chalk I celebrated."

MC was 0 for its last 8 with runners in scoring position and had stranded eight runners entering the seventh inning.

Neher helped get the rally started by nailing Mari Valdez in the back with one out.

Louisiana Brasil followed with her fourth hit of the game to put runners on the corners. Chelsea DeLeon hit a hard chopper to third, but the Cougars' Brooklyn Amador made a fine play to save the run and record the second out.

That left it to Bondi, who turned on the first inside pitch she saw, just catching the left-field line to plate Valdez.

"It was all about adjusting to and seeing that inside pitch," Bondi said. "As you can tell by how she did, it took us a little while to do it.

"We missed some opportunities, but we were able to get it done when it mattered most."

The She-Devils got the perfect response to the first-game shutout, matching their Game 1 hit total in the first inning and plating three runs.

Gabriella Espinosa got the scoring started on a wild pitch. Brasil followed with an RBI double and DeLeon made it 3-1 with a run-scoring single.

The MC offense failed to expand the lead after that, however.

Base-running miscues and failed execution at things such as sacrifice bunts plagued the She-Devils all afternoon and killed multiple potential rallies.

The defense had some untimely breakdowns as well.

A two-out single by Taft's Peyton Buen in the second inning trimmed the lead to 3-2.

It remained that way until the fifth when a dropped fly ball with one out loaded the bases and set up a game-tying sacrifice fly by Kelina Nakai.

Espinosa shut down the Cougars after that, retiring six of the last seven batters she faced and striking out six to earn the win.

"We definitely hurt ourselves, both offensively and defensively," McGhee said. "They made some big plays at key moments to prevent us from taking the lead back, but we kept fighting.

"The kids battled to the very end and earned the win."

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsunstar.com.

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