With a pitcher like Madilyn Nickles in the circle, the Merced High School softball team doesn’t often need much offense.
That’s not to say the Bears aren’t capable of doling out a few crooked numbers on any given afternoon. Bart McAfee’s lineup can beat opponents with speed, can play small ball and can beat teams with the long ball.
The Bears went with the latter on Friday, launching three home runs in a 14-1 rout of Golden Valley. The bombs brought Merced’s total to 12 for the season, good for ninth in the Sac-Joaquin Section, and gives the team six different home run hitters.
“Honestly, with a pitcher like (Nickles), we really just focus on our defense,” said Mo Collins, who finished 2 for 2 with her first career home run and four RBIs. “We know we can hit one through nine, but as long as we’re playing defense behind her, she’ll keep us in the game.
“I think today was certainly a confidence boost for us. When balls start going out, you can see everyone’s spirits pick up.”
It had quite the opposite effect for Golden Valley (10-10, 3-7 Central California Conference), which fell behind right away.
Megan Kravec (2 for 3) singled in a run to open the scoring. An error plated another and set the stage for a Collins two-run double off the left-center field fence as Merced (15-5, 8-1 CCC) took a 4-0 lead after one.
The Bears broke the game open for good in the second inning.
Nickles started the rally by launching a three-run blast practically to the JV field over the left-field fence. Merced was just getting started. Shelbee Ward singled in a run and freshman Liliana Ramirez connected for her first career home run, also a three-run shot.
Merced sent 12 hitters to the plate in the second, scoring eight runs on six hits to take a 12-0 lead. Collins closed the Bears’ scoring with a two-run homer in the third.
Syan Crutcher accounted for all of the Cougars’ offense, going 2 for 3.
“We’ve been playing better ball. We just can’t seem to get past the mental hurdle of Merced beating us a number of times in a row,” Golden Valley coach Ross Cruickshanks said. “You can’t make mistakes against good teams like that, because they hammer you for them. That’s what they did.”
Atwater 5, Buhach Colony 3 in Atwater – Anessa Calderon had a big run-scoring single in the bottom of the sixth as the Falcons held off the Thunder.
Merced 128, Golden Valley 38 in Merced – Brandon Villegas won the 50-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly and contributed to two relay wins as the Bears swept the Cougars to complete a seventh consecutive undefeated run through the CCC regular season.
El Capitan 104, Ceres 64 in Ceres – Jacob Mumford was a four-time winner for the Gauchos as they knocked off the Bulldogs in a battle of Western Athletic Conference unbeatens.
Merced 107, Golden Valley 50 in Merced – Jondae Monteon, Laurel Carpenter and Cookie Ortega shined for the Bears as they swept the Cougars to complete a 5-0 CCC regular season for the seventh year in a row.
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.