The home run has been a big weapon for the Merced High School softball team, and it continues in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Rheanne Lewis led off the first inning with a solo shot and Madilyn Nickles blasted a three-run bomb in the second inning to give the Bears an early six-run lead as they went on to defeat Rodriguez of Fairfield 8-4 on Tuesday night in the first round of the Division II playoffs at the Sacramento Softball Complex.
Fifth-seeded Merced has 23 home runs this season.
“A home run is one hit and one run; it makes a big difference,” said Merced coach Bart McAfee, whose team improved to 21-6. “If you can hit a home run, you don’t have to get a bunch of hits to score. Maddy’s was three runs on one hit. That’s Earl Weaver softball.”
Lewis brought the Merced dugout to its feet when she lined the first pitch she saw over the left-field fence.
“That was great,” said Lewis, who went 3 for 4 and scored three runs. “That’s my first home run over the fence this year.”
Merced chased Rodriguez starter Ashley Miller in the first inning after three runs and four hits. Monique Collins singled in Megan Kravec for the second run, and Melissa Lalisan scored on a wild pitch.
Nickles’ three-run shot to right-center field off Mustangs reliever Rayna Damacion gave the Bears a 6-0 lead.
“It’s awesome when we can score runs like that,” Nickles said. “We know we can come through in those situations with runners on. Those runs helped us relax. I think we were a little too relaxed.”
The 12th-seeded Mustangs (14-11) came back with four runs in the fifth off Nickles to cut the deficit to 6-4. Melissa Eisen and freshman Cienna Cheshier hit RBI doubles during the rally.
Eisen, who is headed to Arizona State to play softball, plays travel ball with Nickles. The Merced ace got her revenge in the sixth when she struck out Eisen with runner on the corners and one out to help thwart another rally.
“I let the adrenaline get to me a bit in the fifth facing my travel ball teammate,” Nickles said. “She got the big double, but I was happy I struck her out the next time. She got mad at me.”
Merced is 18-1 when it scores four or more runs this season
Merced tacked on two big insurance runs in the sixth as Nickles and Kravec hit RBI singles to extend the lead to 8-4. The Bears finished with 14 hits.
“We swung it pretty well,” McAfee said. “We kind of let up with our intensity there after that. We had that little lull, and then we picked it back up when we got those runs late. Rodriguez never quit.”
The Bears will face fourth-seeded St. Mary’s on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Sacramento Softball Complex.
St. Mary’s 4, Atwater 0 – The Falcons had runners on base all game but couldn’t cash in with the big hit against Rams freshman ace Carley Morfey as their season ended.
Sophomore Eileen Martinez had two hits for Atwater (15-12). For St. Mary’s, Taylor Mamola went 3 for 3 with a home run, a double and two runs scored. Mamola’s homer led off the second and gave the Rams (24-4) a 1-0 lead.
A dropped fly ball opened the door for a St. Mary’s run in the third, and an errant throw led to two more Rams runs in the fourth.
“We hit the ball hard the whole game,” Atwater coach Robert Santistevan said. “Their outfield is outstanding. Their outfield saved them today by saving doubles and triples.”
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