Madilyn Nickles wore a heavy wrap around her ribs to help alleviate the pain.
It didn’t keep the Merced High School star from wincing when she felt discomfort. There were times when the Bears’ ace had to step off and catch her breath, but she gutted her way through two games Saturday to help keep the Bears’ season alive.
Merced split two games, defeating No. 5 seed Tracy 4-0 in the morning and then falling to top-seeded Sheldon-Sacramento 3-0 in the afternoon in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I softball playoffs at the Sacramento Softball Complex.
Nickles found out she dislocated a rib a few weeks ago and has possibly been dealing with torn cartilage. The Merced coaching staff held her out in the playoff opener against Enochs, and the Bears sweated out a 9-8 win over Enochs.
Never miss a local story.
Nickles returned to the circle Saturday, but it wasn’t easy.
“Every single pitch it hurts, but the wrap helps relieve the pain quicker,” Nickles said. “Sometimes, it hurts extremely bad though. It feels like a really sharp stick in the side.”
With Nickles at less than 100 percent, the Bears (21-6) have to rely on their defense more because she’s not going to overpower as many hitters. The defense was sharp against Tracy (20-6) as Nickles induced 13 ground ball outs.
“In league, not that many people hit her,” said Merced second baseman Rheanne Lewis. “It actually makes it a little more fun. We can show people what we can do.”
Lewis’ sacrifice fly drove in Monique Collins with the first run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Juaqlyne Garza later squeezed in Nickles with a bunt single to extend the Bears’ lead to 2-0.
Merced broke the game open in the fifth as Ashlyn Chatham led off with a double. With two outs, Nickles doubled down the left-field line to drive in Chatham. Lewis followed with an RBI double to extend the lead to 4-0.
Nickles went the distance, allowing one hit. The hit came in the fifth when Tracy’s Cierra Hylton hit a grounder that hit base runner Ali Davis, which is scored as a base hit with the runner called out.
Nickles struck out seven and walked one.
Sheldon (28-2) jumped on Nickles for two runs in the first inning in the second game. Jordan Fines hit a one-out double and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Sara Fukushima walked and Shay Moreno drove in Fines with a ground ball. Moreno scored on an errant throw.
Nickles labored through the inning in obvious pain. Merced had freshman Abby Flores warming up just in case.
“That small break in between games hurt me,” Nickles said. “I feel better after I start throwing for a while. That first inning it was killing me though.”
Nickles stuck it out and gave up only one unearned run the rest of the way.
The Merced offense put the bat on the ball against Sheldon left-hander Taliyah Miles but only had three hits to show for it. Alazaya Landeros picked up two hits and Nickles had a double.
Nickles gave up just three hits and struck out seven, which gave her 296 strikeouts this season.
Despite the oss, Merced showed it can play with any team in the tournament.
“Definitely,” Lewis said. “The game before us, Sheldon beat (Oak Ridge) by eight runs. We just have to get some hits. We’re right there. I’d like to see them again.”
Merced will have to work its way through the losers’ bracket, starting with a 5 p.m. game Monday against Vacaville.