While standing in the batters box, Merced’s Jahnessa Anderson-Lopez reached down and grabbed some dirt to rub on her hands during the sixth inning.
The wind blew much of the dirt into the face of the unsuspecting home plate umpire, who was standing behind her.
Anderson-Lopez sheepishly looked back and quickly apologized.
The blustery afternoon made for horrible playing conditions, but the Bears were able to overcome the wind, dust and Atwater in a 6-0 win to take over sole possession of first place in the Central California Conference softball race.
“Walking up to the field, we saw dust everywhere,” said Merced coach Bart McAfee, whose team improved to 16-5 overall and 8-1 in the CCC. “It was a tough day to play.
“That’s why I’m really happy with my players. I didn’t hear any complaints. The only one complaining was me.”
It helps when you can turn to a freshman phenom like Madilyn Nickles.
Nickles showed why a prestigious college program like UCLA already has offered her a scholarship. The right-hander overpowered Atwater hitters, striking out 13 on her way to a one-hit shutout to avenge a 1-0 loss to Atwater earlier in the season.
The Falcons (7-2 CCC) have just two hits in two games against Nickles this season.
“This game was really important to us,” Nickles said. “We wanted to come after them really hard. We were ready to play.”
Nickles had the wind at her back as opposed to last week where she found herself pitching against a strong wind against Buhach Colony.
The wind put a little more zip on her fastball and she was able to mix in her curveball, drop, rise and change-up.
“I didn’t let the wind get to me like last time,” Nickles said. “Against Buhach I made mistakes. This time I didn’t think about it.”
Brittany Masa’s third-inning single accounted for Atwater’s only offense. Nickles retired 14 of 15 hitters at one point of the game.
“She’s a gamer,” McAfee said. “Especially for a freshman. We’ve been working on her change-up and riser and we used those quite a bit today.”
Merced had a little bit better luck against Atwater left-hander Aliyah Ricks than the first time it faced her, collecting 11 hits.
The Bears struck for two runs with a two-out rally in the third inning. Chelsea Evans came through, hitting a 2-0 pitch up the middle to drive in Rheanne Lewis and Shelbee Ward.
Merced tacked on three more runs in the fifth inning with Lewis and Ward again scoring runs.
Serina Castillo led the Bears offensive attack with three hits and two RBIs.
“I was really happy we didn’t hit a lot of flyballs today,” McAfee said. “We hit the ball on the ground and that’s what we had to do in this wind.”
Pitman 15, Golden Valley 3
Alexis Mettler pitched a complete game and also drove in seven runs as the Pride routed the Cougars.
Shayan Crutcher led Golden Valley going 3 for 3 with an RBI. Victoria Nava drove in a pair of runs.
Buhach Colony 3, Turlock 2
TURLOCK — Lauren Morris and Kerstin Smith each collected two hits and knocked in a run to help the Thunder (6-3 CCC) avoid an upset. Mary Castillo picked up the win in relief.
MODESTO — Upon further review, we have a reversal. The Merced High’s boys and girls teams left the ninth annual Stanislaus County South Section Swimming and Diving Championships on Saturday believing they’d each wrapped up their fourth consecutive title. The Merced boys totaled 390 points, double the total (195) of second-place Oakdale.
The girls were in a much closer battle, nipping Turlock’s Pitman 353-339.
However, given that the outcome was so close, meet director Brent Bohlender later went back and double-checked the results, only to realize that Pitman actually won the girls meet, 356-332, ending Merced’s girls run at three straight county titles.