Farmington Hills Mercy's softball team is loaded with some of the top talent in the state, making the Marlins a legitimate threat to win the Catholic League and state title this season.
Mercy (12-0) has the most feared hitter in the state in senior catcher Alex Sobczak, who was on pace to set the state record for career home runs until opponents decided to stay away from pitching to her.
Sobczak, who has signed with Michigan, has 35 career homers, tied for fifth in state history, but still well behind Taylor Johnson's 49 for Belding from 2007-10.
Opponents starting walking Sobczak her sophomore year when she belted 17 home runs. She was walked 20 times that season. She hit .613 with nine homers and 62 RBIs last season, when Mercy lost to Canton in the regional final.
This year, she already has been walked 18 times in 12 games, nine times by Birmingham Marian in a Catholic League doubleheader.
In the second game of a doubleheader sweep of Livonia Ladywood Tuesday, Sobczak slammed an outside pitch to the opposite field and over the fence in right field for her first home run of the season.
Mercy coach Alec Lesko moved Sobczak up from third in the lineup to leadoff hitter because her ability to get on base and score runs. She has scored 20 runs with an on-base percentage of .690 and a .478 batting average.
"She's been ranked in the top 50 nationally and just tore it up in summer ball (playing with Finesse)," Lesko said. "Hutch (Michigan coach Carol Hutchins) does a great job of projecting how players will grow and Alex will be ready to take the next step.
"Alex is definitely Miss Softball in my opinion, and physically she's in the best shape of any player I've seen in 25 years of coaching. She's getting Barry Bonds treatment at the plate and that's tough for any high school kid. Our opponents are finding out you can't pitch around her because other players like Abby (Krzywiecki) will hurt you."
Sobczak has made the transition to leadoff.
"This season has been frustrating, 20 walks in 12 games," she said. "Leading off is completing different from the No. 3 or No. 4 spot, but I've embraced it. I'm used to driving in people, but my goal now is to get on base and start the tone. I'll make them pay by getting on base and scoring because my teammates have been big at driving me in."
And, one of those teammates is corner infielder and junior pitcher Krzywiecki, who is committed to South Alabama and is having the type of season Sobczak had her sophomore year.
Krzywiecki is hitting .647 (22-of-34) with six home runs and 27 RBIs. In the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader, she punished Ladywood pitching with eight RBIs in a three-inning stretch, including a two-run homer in the third, a two-run double in the fourth and a grand slam in the fifth of a 14-4 mercy-rule win.
"That was the first grand slam I hit so it was real cool," said Krzywiecki, who is a travel ball teammate with Sobczak with Finesse. "Ladywood's our biggest rival and everybody was so upbeat and energetic to play them. I was so happy for Alex to get her home run. She wants to help the team so bad and teams are just taking the bat out of her hand. You could see how happy she was to get one."
Krzywiecki hit .613 with seven home runs and 54 RBIs last season.
"I think for me, I've just calmed down so I just hit the ball, you know, not think too much," she said. "I'm not looking to hit home runs. I'm just focused on hitting the ball hard."
Sophia Van Acker (.586, 15 runs), Anna Kaifoulis (.458), Cari Padula (.455), Anna Dixon (.448) and Jordan Johnson (.382, 13 RBIs) also are having strong seasons for Mercy, which hosts — unfortunately for Sobczak — Marian in a doubleheader Tuesday.
Clarkston also loaded
Clarkston coach Don Peters feels fortunate to have a lineup loaded with what he calls "triple\-threat hitters" who can bunt, slap or drive the ball over the fence.
Clarkston's attack is led by senior shortstop Rachel Vieira, junior catcher Abby Skvarce, senior pitcher Candace Kitchen and senior second baseman Mikayla Blaska.
Vieira, who also plays on the Finesse travel team, is hitting .619 with three home runs and 26 RBIs for the 13-0 Wolves, who on Tuesday host standout third baseman Alex Carpenter and Lake Orion, a team to whom it lost in last year's district tournament.
"Rachel is a line-drive hitter who hits with power," said Peters of Vieira, who will play next year at Central Michigan. "She's an excellent fielder with really soft hands.
"Abby Skvarce has already committed to Michigan. She's a great catcher with a strong arm and hits with power. Candace and Mikayla are triple-threat hitters so the defense can't really zero in on trying to stop just one thing when they face them."
Vieira showed her power when she hit a three-run homer and a grand slam in the same game against Ortonville Brandon.
"Her biggest strength is that she truly loves to play softball," Peters said. "Every day she's at practice smiling and she's a great competitor."
Kitchen, who will play at St. Thomas in Minnesota, is hitting .515; the Princeton-bound Blaska, .452 with 12 RBIs; Skvarce, .412 with 15 RBIs; senior first baseman Alex Favazza, .436; and Tora Sharkey, a senior slap-hitting center fielder, .568.
St. John off to great start
Emma St. John made a name for herself last year as a freshman when she threw a perfect game, striking out every batter she faced in a six-inning, 10-0 mercy-rule win over Center Line.
Plus, she's off to a strong sophomore season. She has a 10-0 record with a 0.37 earned-run average in 56 innings of work, striking out 106 while walking 17 and giving up 13 hits.
St. John, just 15, has three no-hitters this season, including another perfect game.
She also has been a threat at the plate, hitting .629 with 14 RBIs.
"Alex is definitely Miss Softball, in my opinion. She's been ranked in the top 50 nationally and just tore it up in summer ball. She's getting Barry Bonds treatment at the plate (in high school) and that's tough for any high school kid."
-- Alec Lesko, Farmington Hills Mercy coach, on senior catcher and Michigan-bound Alex Sobczak