Softball quarterfinals: F.H. Mercy overpowers Clarkston
Novi — After sweating out its regional games, particularly the intense championship game, the Farmington Hills Mercy softball team had a much easier day Tuesday.
Behind three first-inning runs and great, clutch pitching from junior Andrea Elmore, Mercy beat Clarkston, 11-1, in a six-inning mercy-ruling during a Division 1 quarterfinal at Novi High School.
Mercy will play Caledonia in the semifinals at Michigan State in East Lansing at 3 p.m. Thursday.
"I won a state title in hockey with Mercy this year," said sophomore Sophie VanAcker, a star in the quarterfinal victory. "Softball's my game. I love this team."
VanAcker is placed strategically between Mercy's power-hitters, Alex Sobczak and Abby Krzywiecki.
And she played the role perfectly Tuesday.
Twice, after Sobczak — the Michigan-bound slugger — was intentionally walked by Clarkston, VanAcker made the opponents pay, lacing a pair of two-run singles.
The first one put the game out of reach, at 8-1; the second one put Mercy in position for the mercy. She also had a big sacrifice bunt in the first inning that helped spark the early rally.
"All season, she's been between our two power hitters," Mercy coach Alec Lesko said. "That's a tough spot to be in, but she's embraced it.
"She's responded very well."
Said VanAcker: "I just need to come through for my team."
Mercy (27-3) scored three in the first, after Sobczak led off with a single, moved to second on the sacrifice and scored on a long RBI double to right by Jordan Johnson. Cari Padula, with two outs, then popped up to deep short, but there was miscommunication between short, left field and center field, and the ball dropped for a key two-run mistake.
That had Mercy feeling good, especially after the stress it felt during regionals.
But Clarkston (40-3) made a bid to get it right back, loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the first. That's when Elmore got nasty, getting five swings-and-misses in a row on some heat for back-to-back, inning-ending strikeouts.
It was similar to her Houdini act in regionals. After that, Mercy took it to Clarkston, knocking out a pair of pitchers, and rarely had to sweat again.
"It just seems she gets better on base," Lesko said of Elmore. "That kept us rolling.
"I'm really proud of her."