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Coonce powers Merced to extra-inning win over Buhach Colony softball

It’s tough to find a weak spot in the Merced softball lineup. There’s no spot for an opposing pitcher to catch her breath.

Lauren Coonce proved it again on Friday as Merced’s No. 8 hitter deposited a three-run home run over the left-field fence in the top of the eighth inning to lift the Bears to a 6-3 win over Buhach Colony.

“We’ve talked it about it before, we’re good one through nine,” Merced coach Bart McAfee said. “Every one of our hitters can win a game for us. Lauren is our eighth hitter. She’s not your typical eighth hitter.”

Coonce knew the ball was gone off the bat.

“When I get a pitch inside I try to hit it over the fence,” Coonce said. “It was smooth off the bat. I knew it was gone. It felt great.”

The win gave Merced (13-1 overall and 8-0 Central California Conference) a three-game cushion atop the conference standings.

The Bears have shown they came win with great pitching like Chelsea Evans’ no-hitter on Wednesday against Turlock or they can slug it out with the bats.

Merced has outscored their opponents 71-9 in its eight CCC wins.

The Thunder (8-4, 5-3) are the only team to score over one run against the Bears.

“Every game we come out and we want to win,” McAfee said. “We have our goals and we’re trying to reach them. We also know every team is coming after us because we’re on top.”

The Bears jumped out to a 3-0 lead early against Thunder starter Jordan Reyes. Megan Kravec drew a bases loaded walk to force in a run in the first inning and Madilyn Nickles hit her second home run in two days with a two-run blast in the third inning.

Nickles has eight RBIs in her last two games.

Nickles was cruising in the circle as she scattered five hits through four scoreless innings to start the game. Buhach Colony finally got on the board in the fifth when Jen Moreno doubled in Sabrina Alvarado to cut the lead to 3-1.

Nickles then found herself in a jam in the bottom of the seventh as the Thunder loaded the bases with no outs with a walk and two singles. Nickles then got Alvarado to hit a one-hopper back to her for a home-to-first double play.

Buhach Colony was down to its last strike when Moreno came through again with a single to right to score Kaelee Lynch and Katrina Wilson to tie the game at 3-3.

“Again Jen came through,” Thunder coach Becky Gibson said. “I don’t know how she does it, but she seems to come through when we need it.”

Moreno’s heroics sent Buhach Colony into its fourth extra-inning game in eight conference games, including a 12-inning marathon against Pitman on Thursday.

The Bears wasted little time as Kravec and Marissa Castillo hit back-to-back singles with one out to set the stage for Coonce.

“After they tied it we just came in and said we need to hit the ball,” Coonce said. “We have to come back and get the win. Chelsea (Evans) called my home run. I guess she told Ruby (Quiralte) and Shelbee (Ward) I was going to hit a home run.”