Mercy blanks Dakota for D-1 softball championship
East Lansing – Throughout the state playoffs, Farmington Hills Mercy relied on its high-powered offense.
On Saturday, No. 2 Mercy leaned on Andrea Elmore, as the senior pitcher threw a complete-game shutout in a 4-0 win over top-ranked Macomb Dakota in the Division 1 softball state final at Michigan State’s Secchia Stadium.
Elmore scattered five hits with five strikeouts and one walk over seven innings to lead Mercy (43-2) to the program’s first state title.
“Honestly, it’s so amazing that I did well today,” Elmore said. “The past couple games it’s mainly been our offense but I was happy to help today, especially such an important game. I think if it was to come at all, I’m glad it was in the state championship game.
“It’s amazing. It doesn’t feel real yet, but I’m really happy.”
Mercy staked Elmore a quick 1-0 lead in the first after Anna Dixon opened the game with a leadoff walk and scored on Sophia VanAcker’s two-strike RBI triple to left.
“I went down in the count and was thinking I really need to come through here,” VanAcker said. “I was thinking to myself just feel the ball off the bat and when I hit I was like, ‘Yup, I hit that pretty good.’ So then I was rounding second base and said I’m going to keep going because I had some steam coming out of the box, and it just felt good off my hands, and I knew it was going pretty far.
“It felt good to come out on top and get a run there in the first inning. It was really important and gave us some energy going into the rest of the inning.”
Dakota’s Kendahl Dunford was able to bounce back and limit the damage, retiring the next three batters on two pop-ups and a strikeout to strand VanAcker at third.
Mercy left another runner in scoring position in the second after Elmore led off with a single through the left side. Courtesy runner Julia Kleismit stole second on a delayed steal but couldn’t advance any further as Dunford got a flyout, strikeout and groundout to end the inning.
Yet Dakota, which was making its second state final appearance, struggled to get anything going offensively against Elmore in the early stages. After leadoff hitter Corbin Hison’s single in the bottom of the first, Elmore retired the next eight straight hitters until Hison hit a two-out bloop single to left in the third.
“(Elmore) is a great pitcher, I’ll give her that,” said Hison, who finished 3-for-3. “She had very nice spin. She was just ready and she was on her game today.”
Dakota (38-3) had a pair of scoring chances in the fourth and fifth innings, but couldn’t push a run across.
In the fourth, Dunford and Julia Salisbury hit back-to-back one-out singles and courtesy runners Olivia Patton and Melissa Charbonneau advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. But Elmore shut the door, getting a strike out and pop out.
Then in the fifth, Hison hit a two-out double to center but Elmore quickly extinguished the threat with a fly out to left field to preserve the one-run lead.
“What she did was what you got to do in big games,” Dakota coach Rick Fontaine said of Elmore. “Just keep girls off-balance, change eye level and she did that a little bit to us. She got her first strike on us in a lot of situations, put us in two-strike counts and just put us in a defensive swing, so I give her a lot of credit.
“We’ve been great with two outs and two strikes all year and today we didn’t get great swings on the ball like we had been all year. That’s the biggest thing. We didn’t get the clutch hit when we had the opportunities.”
Dunford did her best to counter Elmore, retiring seven straight at one point behind a stout defense. Left fielder Kattie Popko made a diving play in foul territory for the third out in the fifth before Dakota turned a 5-4-3 double play to end the sixth.
But Mercy tacked on three insurance runs in the seventh. Nicole Belans started it by driving a first-pitch fastball over the left-center field fence for a solo home run – her third of the season – extending the lead to 2-0.
“The last at-bat I got one outside and I was thinking that the pitcher might jam me again like my first at-bat, so I had kind of took a step back and was looking for that inside pitch,” said Belans, who finished 2-for-3. “When I got it, I swung and hoped for the best.
“I thought it was going to the fence and my first-base coach was waving me on and I saw it go over when I was on my way to second. … It was so exciting. I think I ran those bases so fast because I just wanted to get home and celebrate.”
The celebrating didn’t stop as Elmore roped a double to left-center and advanced to third on Shannon Gibbons’ bunt single.
After Gibbons stole second, Megan Satawa hit a sacrifice fly to right that scored Elmore and advanced Gibbons to third. Then Mary Reeber followed with flyout to left and Gibbons scored on an overthrow at home to make it 4-0.
Gibbons slide into Dunford’s left ankle in the play at the plate. The junior pitcher had to be carried off the field after giving up eight hits, striking out four and walking one in 6.2 innings.
Dakota’s Julia Sayles came on to get a quick out in relief before Elmore capped off her gem by retiring the side in order on five pitches, triggering a wild celebration at the mound.
“I had a feeling that wasn’t going to be the only (run),” VanAcker said of the first inning. “I have a lot of confidence in our players and Nicole hit a bomb that triggered a lot of excitement for everyone.
“This is just an exciting feeling. It’s overwhelming.”