(Cover photo: Mercy’s Jordan Sanders fouling off a pitch before slugging a home run in the 2nd inning. Credit: Eric Thorne)
Mercy’s softball team was ready to make a statement with a big win Wednesday night, but host Floyd Central (Ind.) used some late-inning heroics to claim a 4-2 victory.
The Jaguars have been battling numerous injuries over the past several weeks and finally have a healthy squad. They welcomed Jordan Sanders back to the lineup after a four-week layoff due to a dislocated shoulder suffered over spring break.
All the junior did was hit a home run in her first at-bat and a double in her final trip to the plate.
“Oh yes, it feels good to be back playing again,” Sanders said. “I was a little nervous because I haven’t hit in over a month, but it felt good. I just walked up there confident and brought back my old self.”
Floyd Central (20-3) is ranked No. 2 in Indiana’s Class 4-A and is undefeated at home in 10 games. Its losses all came during the Warrior Southern Classic two weeks ago in Murfreesboro, Tenn., including to Kentucky’s No. 2-ranked Scott County.
Mercy (16-11) is ranked No. 14 and has gotten hot over the past two weeks as banged-up players returned to the lineup.
“We knew they were going to be a big team for us to go up against, but I think we are getting more consistent hitting throughout the lineup and that’s what we need,” Sanders said. “We’re believing and gaining confidence each game.”
The Jaguars came out with their bats swinging as Lexi Ray reached on a long fly ball error and Amber Reed smacked a double to deep center field. They ended up on second and third as a double rainbow appeared over the field in what they hoped would be a good omen. However they couldn’t bring them in.
Undeterred, they got to pitcher Kassie King in the second as Sanders led off with a towering homer over the left-field fence.
“She left it out over the plate and I got a good swing at it, but then I was just anxious to finally hit,” Sanders said with a huge smile.
Kasey Kinsey reached on a slap single to left and then stole second. Lexi Ray kept the left-field barrage going as she crushed a line drive single off the fence to bring home Kinsey for a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, Ray was keeping the normally potent Highlander hitters at bay. The sophomore pitcher set down the first 10 batters she faced until the fourth inning. Jensen Striegle got the first Highlander hit on a deep single to shortstop. She stole two bases but was stranded there.
Instrumental in that was the defense of Sanders at third, where she snagged several sharp hits.
“I really didn’t think about my shoulder that much but was glad to be out there playing for my team,” Sanders said.
Mercy head coach Greg Meiners was happy to finally have Sanders back.
“She is just such a great presence for us to have out there on the field,” Meiners said.
Floyd Central got on the board in the fifth when Cassie Thomerson singled to left and Dallas Henderson followed with a single to right. King moved them up on with a sacrifice bunt and Paige Meyer grounded into fielder’s choice to score Thomerson.
“We knew she (Ray) is a very good pitcher, and we just made some adjustments and knew we could get some hits,” Highlanders head coach Shawn Striegle said. “Her rise ball was very effective, so we just waited and the girls finally listened. This is going to be a good win as we head into our conference tournament next week.”
King (12-1) settled down after the second and allowed Mercy batters to reach base only three times in the final five innings: a single by Ryan Ann Hobbs, Sanders’ double and she hit Ray with a pitch. The senior allowed six hits while striking out nine.
“We knew coming in we needed to hit the ball better against a pitcher like her, which we did early on but didn’t carry that through the rest of the game,” Ray said. “Having Jordan back is a huge boost for us.”
However, King did need her team to rescue her in the sixth inning.
Floyd Central trailed 2-1 when Striegel opened with a single, Jenna Endris was hit by a pitch and both moved up on a passed ball. Ray was then called for her third illegal pitch of the game and Striegel was waved home. Maddie Probus chased Endris home with a single and two batters later Dallas Henderson’s single to right and a bobbled ball allowed Probus to score.
Meiners jumped off his ball bucket demanding an explanation for the illegal pitch.
“Lexi hasn’t had one illegal pitches called all year and she gets three in one game,” Meiners said. “That’s not what lost the game for us and I did get a little more excited than I should have, and I told the girls that’s not the best way to handle it. I love my kids and a good leader has to stay composed.”
But what he liked was the hitting his team showed and the early fight he has wanted – especially against a quality opponent.
“You have to win some close games and we haven’t done much of that,” Meiners said. “You have to overcome adversity and not make excuses. A good team like Floyd Central will capitalize when you give them window. Our offense has been lacking this year, but it’s showing positive signs lately and it was early on in the game.”
Ray was equally as baffled by the pitch calls but didn’t let it affect her. She gave up only six hits, but three came in the final inning as well as the hit batter. The Highlanders average 8.6 runs per game.
“I knew it would be tougher the more we went through their lineup because a lot of their kids are on my travel team, so I know them well,” Ray said. “I didn’t really know what the call was, but you can’t let that get you down. The loss is on us, not the umpires. I’m still confident in our team.”
Meiners said this weekend will be another test for the Jaguars.
“We need to win some of these 4-2 games because Mercy is used to winning them and not losing them,” he said. “Now no one wants to see the same team win all the time, so I’m sure there are a lot of teams out there not upset we’re losing these kinds of games.”
Next up for Mercy is a trip to the Owensboro Catholic Classic. The Jaguars will play Marshall County and Harrison County on Friday and Madisonville-North Hopkins and Daviess County on Saturday.