Megan Kravec’s grandfather rarely misses one of her softball games. He’s usually sitting in his chair, keeping score.
So when Kravec launched a three-run homer over the center field fence in the third inning, Kravec’s grandmother instantly shouted, “That one is for grandpa.”
Kravec’s blast and a strong pitching performance from Madilyn Nickles powered the Bears to their 11th consecutive win, 7-2 over Atwater on Tuesday afternoon at Merced High School.
“My grandpa wasn’t here, so I guess that one was for him,” said Kravec, who has four home runs this season. “I hadn’t hit a home run in a while, so it was nice to hit one.”
Kravec’s other three home runs all came in a 9-0 win over Los Banos in the second game of the season.
Nickles settled in after giving up a first-inning run to strike out 11 batters en route to a complete game victory. She gave up just four hits and struck out eight of 12 batters during a stretch that began in the second inning.
“She battled after the first inning,” Merced coach Bart McAfee said.
Atwater’s Hayley Lawrence picked up two doubles, including one to open the game. Brittany Massa’s single drove her in, giving the Falcons (4-5 Central California Conference) a 1-0 lead.
That marked just the third time Merced has trailed in nine conference games. The Bears have never trailed by more than one run.
Merced (14-1, 9-0) answered in the second inning. With two outs and Ruby Quiralte on second base, the Bears’ Lauren Coonce singled to right field. Atwater right fielder Alina Mendoza came up firing to try to get Coonce at first, but first baseman Unique Espinoza and Coonce collided at the bag and the ball bounced up against the Merced dugout, allowing Quiralte to score, tying the game 1-1.
Shelbee Ward walked and Rheanne Lewis beat out a bunt single to load the bases with two outs in the second. Katelynn Gietler delivered a single to center that skipped over the glove of Lawrence in center field and rolled to the fence, allowing all three runs to score to give Merced a 4-1 lead.
“Huge play,” McAfee said. “(Gietler) battled. She’s been working on her swing. She’s been hitting all year, but she’s worked hard on it. That was a big at-bat.”
Kravec added the three extra runs in third inning when she deposited a fastball from Gracie Santistevan over the fence.
“I wasn’t looking for any particular pitcher or trying to hit a home run,” Kravec said. “When I hit home runs they just happen. I just get a pitch in my comfort zone.”
Lewis, Gietler and Kravec all finished with two hits for Merced.
The Bears have a three game lead over Buhach Colony and Pitman atop the CCC standings. The toughest challenge for Merced may be fighting complacency.
“We’re having a hard time with that,” McAfee said. “We’ve got to come out and play with that fire. It’s hard on days like today where it’s 90 degrees out of nowhere. That’s another thing we have to battle. We just have to try to make it fun.”