June 2nd, 2012
Seventh Heaven For Mercy Jaguars
Mercy pounds 11 hits in 6-1 win over Ballard
When talking about the elite softball programs in Kentucky’s 7th Region, the Mercy Academy Jaguars and the Ballard Lady Bruins are the two that are perched above all others. The two that make teams out in the state pause and hope that they don’t draw the 7th Region champion until late in the state tournament.
Those titans of the 7th Region faced each other for the last time in the regional final, as Mercy will be making a move to the 6th Region next season. With highly competitive coaches Josh Bloomer (Mercy) and Alan Jones running the dugouts, with top pitchers J.J. Francis (Mercy) and Jessica Adell (Ballard) pitching and with the sting of Ballard’s 2-1 win in last year’s regional semifinal fresh in the minds of the Jaguars team, this title match up had the makings of something special.
Both teams delivered great moments. From Ballard’s stellar defense to the resilience of the Mercy lineup pounding out 11 hits, this final was not settled till late. And it was the Mercy bats that kept the pressure on Adell and her Ballard teammates. The Jaguars plated two runs in the 5th inning and added four more in the 7th—all with two outs—en route to their seventh 7th Region championship in the past ten years by a 6-1 score.
“Ballard’s a great team. They won the region last year and there’s a reason they’re ranked as highly as they are,” said Mercy head coach Josh Bloomer. “We were just going to play aggressive ball because that’s how we’ve played all year. We got a couple of bad hops on the squeeze play, but we were going to put the pressure on and eventually it was going to break.”
The Jaguars put the pressure on Adell and the Ballard defense from the outset. The Mercy offense advanced a runner to third base in each of the first three innings and had five at bats with runners in scoring position, but the Lady Bruins didn’t break. They didn’t even blink.
Mercy’s Morgan Meyer led off the game with a solid single to center and moved to second on Jordan Vorbrink’s sacrifice bunt. With two outs Meyer stole third, but Francis grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.
In the top of the second, the hot-swinging Caroline Keck led off with a single to center and moved to second on Erika Downey’s infield single. Adell struck out Aubrey Meiners, but with sophomore Lauren Springhetti at bat a passed ball moved the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Bloomer inserted pinch hitter Leigh Ellen Thomas for Springhetti with a 1-0 count. Bloomer’s strategy was to get a good bunter at the plate for a squeeze attempt.
Thomas delivered a bunt that got stuck in the soft dirt in front of the plate, which allowed Ballard catcher Lex Hull to collect the ball and tag out Keck well before she could score. Sophomore second baseman Tori Lasley grounded out to second to end the inning.
Meyer led off the third inning with a walk, moved to second on a wild pitch and stole third all with Vorbrink at the plate. But Adell got Vorbrink to pop out to second and then the Ballard defense made another heady play on a ground ball off the bat of Ellington.
Ellington grounded sharply to second baseman Katie Kelly, who looked Meyer backed to the bag at 3rd and flipped to first base for the out. Meyer broke for home on the throw to first and Ballard first baseman Hannah Gray’s throw to the plate beat Meyer by six feet for the unconventional, but easy, double play.
Through three innings Mercy had three hits, five base runners and no runs to show for it.
“We just had to keep putting on the pressure,” said Bloomer. “Eventually, we got some key hits. My seniors were just clutch late in the game.”
While the Mercy lineup was attacking Adell with solid swings, it was clear that Ballard was absorbing every shot the Jags gave them. And in the bottom of the third, as if on cue, Adell changed the complexion of the game with one sweet swing of her talented bat.
She blasted a Francis delivery to the fence in right centerfield and turned on the jets. Perhaps the fastest baserunner in Kentucky prep softball, the Tennessee verbal commit made it to third with ease. After a pop out to first, Breon Thomas grounded to Lasley at third but her throw to the plate sailed wide of the mark allowing Adell to score and giving Ballard the early 1-0 lead.
A single by the Bruins leadoff hitter Bailey Walker moved Thomas to third, but Francis pitched out of trouble by getting a line out and a groundout to second to end the inning.
The Jaguars squandered another opportunity in the fourth as Keck delivered a one-out single. Downey hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Keck at second and Meiners followed with a rope to right field. But Ballard’s Thomas charged the ball and fired a perfect strike to third base to erase Downey easily and protect that 1-0 lead.
“My mindset was simple: keep putting pressure on them; it’s what we do,” stated Bloomer. “They made some great defensive plays so tip your hat to Ballard, but we’re not going to change who we are. We’re going to run ourselves out of innings and we’re going to run ourselves into some innings. We’ll take that.”
All of those great plays by the Ballard defense were overcome by some superior hitting in the fifth inning.
With one out, Lasley was hit by a pitch and replaced by freshman pinch runner Morgan French. After a Meyer strikeout, the freshman Vorbrink stroked a double to the gap in left centerfield to score French all the way from first. Ellington followed with a single to center that scored Vorbrink and she moved to second on the throw. Ellington took off for third base on an errant Adell pitch, but was thrown out to end the inning. That two out lightning gave Mercy a 2-1 lead.
“I went up there relaxed,” said Ellington. “I just knew that I needed to step up for my team and be a leader in that situation.”
The freshman Vorbrink echoed Ellington’s sentiments and was able to contribute some big plays throughout the regional tournament.
“You just have to believe,” said Vorbrink. “You have to believe in your team, your coaches and yourself. I’m just glad I can help my teammates and be there for them.”
Bloomer responded by bringing in his freshman lefty Leigh Ellen Thomas to pitch for Francis. Thomas struggled in the fifth, loading the bases on two singles and a hit batter. But she wriggled out of trouble by getting Hull on a lazy fly ball to short centerfield.
“Ellington and Francis came up with big time hits and we had some big two-out hits. We’ve done that all year,” said Bloomer. “Thomas came in and shut down their bats and every single kid on the team did something to produce today, so it was a great team effort and we’re pleased to represent the 7th region in Owensboro.”
Thomas shut down the Ballard bats with a 1-2-3 sixth inning and the Jaguars added to their lead in the seventh.
Meiners led off the rally with her second single of the game. After two outs, Meyer stroked a single to center and Vorbrink was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Ellington took two quick strikes and then lined a single to right field to score Meiners. As Vorbrink rounded second base too far, Ballard’s Hull threw to the bag but Vorbrink made it back safely. On the throw to second, Meyer raced home to give Mercy a 4-1 lead.
Both Vorbrink and Ellington moved up a base to 2nd and 3rd and scored on Francis’ two-run single to center. On the throw to the plate Francis tried to take second, but was thrown out by Hull. The four extra runs gave Mercy a 6-1 lead and a cushion for Thomas to work a clean seventh inning.
“We’ve owned this region for the last 10 years,” said a very happy Bloomer. “We wanted to leave the 7th Region as champions. We’re really pleased to win it.”
7th Region Tournament All-Tournament Team:
- KJ Holden - Sacred Heart Academy
- Morgan Foley - Assumption
- Emily Carmack - Assumption
- J.J. Francis - Mercy Academy
- Morgan Meyer - Mercy Academy
- Morgan Ellington - Mercy Academy
- Jordan Vorbrink - Mercy Academy
--Up next for the Jaguars is a first round match-up in the Rawlings/KHSAA Softball State Tournament against the 6th Region champions, Bullitt East. Mercy defeated Bullitt East twice during the season by scores of 6-0 and 10-0. But as Bloomer said, it’s a whole new game. “We have a lot of respect for Bullitt East and we’re not going to allow those wins to affect our preparation,” he said. “We’re just going to take it one game at a time. We’re really blessed with three great pitching options with JJ, Leigh Ellen and Haley (Twyman). But JJ’s clearly our No. 1 pitcher.”
--The Jaguars pounded 11 hits with Meyer, Ellington, Keck and Meiners notching two hits apiece.
--Ellington and Francis knocked in two runs each, while Vorbrink was credited with one RBI.
--Francis struck out 2 and Thomas struck out 3.
--The Jaguars will play Thursday, June 7th at 7pm at Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro.