May 30th, 2018

Jaguars end Cougars season, advance to finals

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Conor Revell

Managing Editor


Jaguars end Cougars season, advance to finals
Mercy's Lexi Ray prepares to throw a pitch / photo by Conor Revell

Mercy’s 10th-ranked softball team got sweet revenge against their south end rival when it mattered most.

Despite losing the regular season meeting exactly four weeks ago, the Jaguars returned the favor and defeated ninth-ranked Holy Cross 4-2 in a Sixth Region semifinal game Tuesday night at the University of Louisville’s Ulmer Stadium.

“It was a big win,” Mercy senior ace Lexi Ray said. “It was a great team win. Everybody from top to bottom was hitting well. We made great defensive plays in the field. I couldn’t ask for more out of my team.”

The Cougars (30-9) went up 1-0 in the first inning when Bella Velez drew a two-out walk; Nevaeh Gupton ran for the sophomore and stole second, and scored on Dakota Young’s single.

Mercy (22-7) didn’t strike until putting up a three-spot in the third inning. Madison Dykes and Kennedy Higdon walked and starting pitcher Carson Goatley was replaced by Velez.

“We had to do a little small ball,” Mercy head coach Greg Meiners said. “We got a couple of key hits. Conditions got a little rough and we took advantage of that. We should have gotten more than what we got. I made a bad mistake putting a freshman in but I wanted to bunt. It was a learning experience. We could have put some distances later in the game and we didn’t execute.”

Lexi Ray blasted a single up the middle to even the game at one. Ryann Berger, who ran for Higdon, scored on a wild pitch and Taylor McGowan singled home Ray to give the Jaguars a 3-1 lead.

“The first pitch was a strike on the outside,” McGowan said. “The whole time we have been working on outside pitches because this team likes to pitch those. One of the balls was a low and a strike and I didn’t like it but I swung anyway. But, I knew that I needed to get a base hit or get on because we needed to score that run. I was really happy I swung at that because it gave us the lead.”

Holy Cross had a golden opportunity in the fifth inning. Maddie Wilson and Kailey Reed led off with back-to-back singles, but the umpires saw lightning, and ordered both teams off the field.

“I’m not going to make excuses, it is what it is,” Holy Cross head coach Tony Young said. “We gave up three runs in the pouring down rain; our pitchers couldn’t get a grip on the ball. Walk absolutely killed us tonight.

“We then started to rally and all of a sudden they decide to put a tarp on the field. We had our chances. I’m not making excuses, we had plenty of opportunities. It is what it is. They were a better team than us today.”

After a 45 minute delay, Ray regrouped, and struck Maddi Gailor, got Goatley to pop out, and Velez to ground out to escape the jam.

“I was confident they were going to play small ball there,” Meiners said. “I thought that for sure with the wet conditions. Lexi to me is one of the best pitchers in the state and she is the best pitcher in the region. You got to believe that you can get out of tight situations. They hit the ball well. We were in a tight spot and she got a strikeout and that was huge.”

Mercy got an insurance run in the fifth inning. Mackenzie Newton and Tate McCormick led off with singles. Ray was walked intentionally to load the bases and then Mia Coles walked in Newton.

The Cougars threatened in the top of the seventh. Reed reached on an error to start the inning. Gailor got on with a bunt single and Velez doubled home Reed for the game final run.

Ray retired the next two hitters to end the game.

“Absolutely, I knew that if we lost this game, it would be my last softball game ever,” McCormick said. “That actually breaks my heart. But, luckily we didn’t lose and still have a lot of time to go, we’re not done yet.”

Goatley started in the circle for Holy Cross and was subbed twice by Velez as the two sophomores allowed four runs, six hits, struck out eight, and walked six in six innings.

“I’m not going to define our season by one inning in the rain,” Tony Young said. “I’m not going to let it define us. We had a really good season and we won 30 games this season. We beat a lot of top 25 teams. We did a lot of good things and had a lot of growth in the program. I’m happy with the young players that will be coming back next season. This year we had three returning starters, next year we’re going to have seven.”

Ray tossed a complete game for the Jaguars and allowed two runs, six hits, struck out four, and walked three.

“I was mixing it up tonight,” Ray said. “I was throwing in and out, throwing off speed; I just tried to keep them off balance. I wanted to get ahead in the count which was hard because the ball was wet.”

The Jaguars backed her up with solid defense and only made one error with the bad field conditions.

“Tate made some big plays in center field,” Meiners said. “Jinhee Walsh made a big play in the middle of the infield. We tried to stay focus and we know that we have a good defense. We have a good pitcher. It’s a matter of three runs, we got four tonight. Lexi is pretty tough. But, that was a battle, and we earned it tonight.”

Mercy will play Butler in the Sixth Region championship, a rematch of last year’s regional final at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and seeking their fifth regional title in six years and second straight.

Holy Cross says goodbye to seniors Natalie Luckett, Dakota Young, and Reed. It was a historic year as the squad broke the school record for most wins in a season with 30 and became the first school to win four straight All “A” Classic Statewide Softball championships.

“They helped move the program in the right direction,” Tony Young said. “Four straight All “A” titles. I’ve said it a million times, people talk down on it, and say it’s easy to win, but we’re a really small school. We do the best we can do. We’re constantly battling with Division I pitchers.” 

 

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