ATWATER — The versatility in his lineup gives Merced High softball coach Bart McAfee plenty of options.
The Bears can play small ball, steal bases or play for the big inning.
That versatility was on display during the fifth inning against Buhach Colony as Merced beat out to bunt singles and later watched as Chelsea Evans blasted a two-run homer during a six-run outburst as the Bears went on to defeat the Thunder 8-1.
The win combined with Atwater's 8-5 loss to Pitman clinched at least a share of the Central California Conference championship for Merced. It's the third straight title for the Bears (19-5 overall, 11-1 CCC).
"We haven't done the small ball thing a lot," McAfee said. "When he we need to play small ball we're capable. We just have a lot of hitters. We had some hitters didn't that didn't hit well today, but our seventh hitter hits a home run. That makes it tough on the other pitcher."
The Bears have clobbered CCC pitching to the tune of almost 10 runs per game.
Megan Kravec put Merced on the board in the second inning with a two-run home run off of Buhach Colony starter Mary Castillo.
"I was just looking for a strike," Kravec said. "I wasn't expecting to hit a home run, but when it's down the middle, it's down the middle, and you just ride it."
Kerstin Smith launched a solo homer in the bottom of the second inning to pull the Thunder (11-10-1, 8-4) within 2-1.
The Bears then blew the game open in the fifth.
The inning started with a walk to Marissa Castillo. Jahnessa Anderson-Lopez then pushed a bunt to second for a base hit and Rheanne Lewis beat out a bunt single to load the bases.
Shelbee Ward then smashed a line drive to center field that Thunder center fielder Hailey McClain couldn't decide whether to come in a catch the ball or play it on a hop. The ball bounced and scooted by the charging McClain and rolled to the fence, clearing the bases for a 5-1 Merced lead.
Before Castillo could catch her breath, Evans launched a two-run homer.
By the end of the fifth inning, the Bears had sent 12 hitters to the plate and had extended their lead to 8-1.
"Our versatility is a good thing," said Evans, who also picked up the win in the circle. "We all work together as a team.
"We kind of started slow at the beginning of the game, but by the fourth or fifth inning we got things going together."
Evans, Kravec, Ruby Quiralte and Castillo all had two hits for the Bears.
Evans limited Buhach Colony to just five hits.
Merced's goal now is to win the title outright.
"That's very important," Evans said. "That's our number one priority. We need to work together as a team to get there. It doesn't matter who we play, we have to take every game seriously."
Pitman 8, Atwater 5
ATWATER The Pride spoiled senior day for the Falcons by scoring five runs in the seventh inning.
Pitman collected six of its eight hits in the final frame to erase a 4-3 deficit.
Alexis Mettler, Sarah Ward and Sally Acosta all had two hits for Pitman (6-6 CCC).
Aliyah Ricks went 3 for 3 for Atwater with two runs scored.
The Falcons dropped to 8-4 in the CCC.
Turlock 10, Golden Valley 7
TURLOCK The Bulldogs won their first conference game.
Shayan Crutcher picked up four of the Cougars' hits and knocked in four runs. Alexis Mahoney also went 2 for 2 with two runs and two RBIs.
Lexi Lucero drove in three runs for Turlock.