Mercy wins first title; Elmore blanks Dakota, 4-0Softball  |
East Lansing — Andrea Elmore knew she could always count on offensive support if her pitching wasn't up to par.
That's how second-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy reached the Division 1 softball championship game, outslugging Lake Orion and Mattawan by a combined score of 20-13 to earn a title matchup with No. 1-ranked Macomb Dakota.
But with the championship at stake, it was Elmore's pitching that carried the Marlins to a 4-0 victory over Dakota on Saturday at Michigan State University.
Mercy (43-2) took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a triple by Sophia VanAcker, then nursed that lead all the way to the seventh inning. A three-run outburst in the top of the seventh gave Elmore some breathing room to close out the Marlins' first championship after eight previous trips to at least the quarterfinal round.
"It affects my confidents only a little, because I'm more focused on the fact we were able to outscore other teams," Elmore said of her quarterfinal and semifinal performances. "Having a strong offense always builds confidence."
Against Dakota, Elmore allowed five hits and one walk, striking out five. She was also 2-for-3.
"My team made all the plays when I pitched it to them," she said. "For me, the heat definitely helped, and my pitches were working well. I felt really confident. Just having them around me and thinking this is our last game really pumped me up to do well."
Mercy coach Alec Lesko didn't actually think Elmore pitched that poorly against Mattawan.
"She knew it was a mechanical thing that was going wrong, and she just didn't have time to fix it with Lake Orion," he said. "That Mattawan game, there were people who thought she was struggling still. She didn't walk anybody and struck out eight. I don't know about you, but when you're playing a team that hits the ball and scores double-digit runs every day, you've got to give her credit."
Elmore got all of the support she would need in the top of the first inning. Anna Dixon led off with a walk and scored on VanAcker’s triple deep to left field.
"Especially in a game like this, it's important to come out strong," VanAcker said. "That's one of the things we like about hitting first. We can get out on top and we can take the momentum from the first inning throughout the rest of the game, which is what we did."
Elmore escaped a jam in the bottom of the fourth after two singles and a wild pitch put Dakota runners on second and third with one out. She struck out Kattie Popko and got Claire Hamlin to pop out to shortstop Shannon Gibbons to end the threat.
"That was huge," Elmore said. "I tried to keep my composure, because I didn't want to get overconfident and then do something wrong. I just tried to stay calm the entire time."
Dakota (38-3) also threatened in the fifth. After Corbin Hison doubled with two outs for her third hit of the game, Elmore got Sarah Fringer to line out to left field.
"We've been great with two outs and with two strikes all year," Dakota coach Rick Fontaine said. "Today we didn't get swings on the ball like we have been all year. We didn't get the clutch hit when we had the opportunities."
In the seventh, Nicole Belans hit the first pitch of the inning over the fence in left field for her third home run of the season, but the Marlins weren't done. Elmore followed with a double, with courtesy runner Julia Kleismit scoring on a sacrifice fly by Megan Satawa.
The Marlins' fourth run had an unfortunate consequence. Shannon Gibbons started to come home on a fly out by Mary Reeber, stopped, then continued to the plate on an overthrow. Star pitcher Kendahl Dunford was covering the plate and got spiked in the left ankle. She was taken out of the game in considerable pain.
Mercy had been to the championship game once before, losing 4-0 to Portage Northern in the 2002 final.