Merced High School pitcher Madilyn Nickles admitted she wasn’t at her best Friday.
A new pitching instructor has the junior working on easing up on her velocity and focusing on pitch movement. Nickles said it’s a work in progress, one that was set back as she fought off the flu last week.
The result was occasional lack of command against visiting Los Banos. Fortunately for the Bears, Nickles was effective when she found the strike zone. She fought through six walks by striking out nine and allowing no hits in an 11-0 victory over the Tigers.
“It was OK,” Nickles said of the outing. “I’m working on some things, so the walks weren’t a huge deal. I definitely couldn’t get a consistent feel for my pitches, but I fought through it.
“When I did give up a walk, I took some time and regrouped and could usually get the next batter.”
Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso called it a good lesson for his young team.
The Tigers (0-1) have a number of good arms on their schedule, including Pacheco star Gia Rondoni. Los Banos used walks to put runners on in five of its six at-bats, including three leadoff hitters. Still, the Tigers failed to find a way to manufacture runs.
“When you face pitchers like (Nickles), you have to take advantage when they give you opportunities,” Caropreso said. “We did a great job working the count and getting people on base, but then failed to get them over or to get balls in play to bring them in.
“That’s the only way you beat pitchers like that.”
Generating offense wasn’t an issue for the Bears (1-0), who pounded 14 hits against Los Banos hurlers Brianna Flores and Kiara Azevedo.
Merced jumped on Los Banos right away, using an error, a Shelbee Ward (2 for 4, 3 RBIs) sacrifice fly, a Mo Collins run-scoring single and Megan Kravec’s steal of home to take a 4-0 lead.
The Bears put the game out of reach in the fourth inning as Katelynn Gietler (2 for 3, 2 RBIs) and Nickles (3 for 4, 2 RBIs) hit back-to-back home runs. Ward made it 10-0 with a two-run single.
Despite Merced already leading 10-0, a scorekeeping miscommunication extended the game an extra inning before Collins brought about the 10-run mercy rule with an RBI single in the sixth.
“It was a good first game,” Merced coach Bart McAfee said. “We made some nice plays in the field and swung the bats really well.
“We should be a pretty good team. The one concern is we’re not real deep. We’ve only got one player on the bench right now, but we only had two last year and managed to play pretty well.”
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or email@example.com.