By Conor Revell
A month ago, it would have looked unlikely that Mercy’s softball team would win the Sixth Region championship. But the Jaguars have heated up at the right time and proved that they still own the region.
Mercy defeated archrival Holy Cross 7-1 Friday night at the University of Louisville’s Ulmer Stadium to win its fourth straight regional title.
“Holy Cross is a great team,” Mercy head coach Greg Meiners said. “I watched them the other night. They looked really good. But we are a team that has been here a lot and we have very experienced kids. They care about each other and they have done what I have asked them to do and we have adjusted our philosophy.”
While the Jaguars (23-13) were used to playing in the regional final, the current Cougars had made it past the regional quarterfinals only twice and were playing in the final for the first time.
“The program is going in the right direction,” Holy Cross head coach Tony Young said. “Every year we have made it further than the year before. Last year we came out here and got killed. This year we won and made it to the championship game. It’s a lot like the All “A.” Last year we got killed and we came back and won it this year. You have to have kids that have experience and can react to the big games. That’s something that team has over there. The only kids over there that haven’t played in big games are their freshmen. Experience is key.”
And Mercy came out loose, scoring in every inning but the first and sixth against the Cougars (28-13).
It’s hard to believe considering the Jaguars went 3-9 from April 14 to May 2 and scored two runs or fewer in 10 of those games.
“I have had full confidence in my team,” Mercy star Jordan Vorbrink said. “I have had belief the whole entire time. Our entire team has really come together and the girls have really come together and I knew that we could have done it all along.”
One of those games was a 1-0 win over Holy Cross in which Mercy star Leigh Ellen Thomas pitched a no-hitter.
“I think she was confident from doing this before and in her team,” Meiners said. “Everything is snowballing for us. They have bought into it. I’m asking kids to sacrifice for the other kids. That’s something Leigh Ellen knows and I’ve told her we’re trying to get her two or three runs.”
The southpaw dominated the Cougars for a second time this season and had a no-hitter going into the fifth inning until Kameron Bowling broke it up with a base hit.
She tossed a complete-game four-hitter and struck out nine. Three of the Cougars’ hits came in the seventh inning.
“I threw a lot of pitches on the outside corner like I usually do,” Thomas said. “At the beginning of the game I threw my change-up and then I threw the rise ball a lot and they swung and missed. I threw my drop ball and they swung and missed or hit ground balls.”
Holy Cross senior Morgan Gailor struggled in the circle and gave up six runs and eight hits. Allie Just replaced her in the sixth with nobody out and gave up one run and three hits.
“I’m very proud of my team and I’m very proud of the way they conducted themselves,” Young said. “We win with class, we lose with class. We did a great job of that. But give a lot of credit to Mercy, they were the better team tonight. That’s all there was to it.”
Lexi Ray, Kasey Kinsey, Jordyn Sanders and Thomas led the Jaguars’ offense explosion with two hits apiece. Abby Wilder and sisters Madison and Sam Dykes also recorded hits.
Kinsey and Ray both went 2 for 2 and drove in two runs apiece. Sanders had a two-run single in the second inning that put the Jaguars up for good. Wilder delivered an RBI double in the seventh.
“It was a perfect pitch and I knew I had to get her in,” Kinsey said of her RBI single in the third inning that scored Madison Dykes. “I focused in on the ball and I got her in. I did my job.”
Ally Brutscher chased home her sister Bayley with a single in the seventh inning for the Cougars’ run.
Considering it was their last game, the loss might have been a bitter disappointment for Gailor, the Brutscher triplets (Ally, Bayley and Christa), Maranda Jacobs, Hailey McMakin and Ella Howard. But they left the program in a lot better shape than it was in four years ago, when the Cougars had won only 59 games the previous four years.
“Our senior class, since the four years they have been here, have taken the program to another level,” Young said. “When they came in, Holy Cross had never done anything and in the last two years we have made the history books. We are going in the right direction and the senior class is a big part of that. With the returning players coming back next year, I don’t think we will take a step back. We will keep moving forward.”
The Cougars posted a 109-43 record during the seniors’ reign. They won the school’s first-ever All “A” Classic state championship — after finishing as the All “A” Classic state runners- up for the first time in school history as juniors — and won three straight district championships.