ANNAWAN -- If they wanted to maintain their pursuit of a Lincoln Trail Conference softball title, the Mercer County Golden Eagles knew nothing less than a sweep would do on Saturday.|
But after using a 13-run sixth inning to outslug Annawan-Wethersfield 18-9 in the opener of its LTC twinbill at Howes Park, Mercer County couldn't maintain its momentum as the Titans got an early jump on freshman pitcher Katie Weeks in the second game and rolled to an 11-1, five-inning victory.
"Absolutely, we needed the sweep,'' said Mercer County coach Cassidy Staker, whose 9-7 club falls to 9-5 and into third behind LTC-leading Biggsville West Central and second-place Stark County. "But it's hard to do that with a freshman throwing all the time. The longer she's out there, the more they'll start hitting the ball.''
Sophomore Bailey Swanson, the Golden Eagles' other starter, has been out the past three weeks with a muscle injury in her left leg, and her return is still up in the air. "Not having more pitching options, that hurts,'' said Staker.
Meantime, Annawan-Wethersfield (9-10, 7-8 LTC) got another boost in that department as junior ace Megan Foes made her second start since returning to the circle following a back injury. Two days after spinning a three-hit shutout against ROWVA, Foes scattered five hits and struck out six in the second-game victory.
"This feels good,'' she said. "It was frustrating, because I couldn't get better and I felt like I was letting the team down. It feels good to be back out there again, and my team supports me 100 percent and is working hard behind me.''
After Titan pitching issued 15 walks in the opening-game setback, Foes (6-1) knew she needed to deliver a steady performance to help put the first game behind them.
"I knew it was a new game,'' she said. " We just had to start fresh, and forget about the first game. That worked for us.''
A two-run homer by A-W catcher Celina VanHyfte opened a three-run first for the hosts, who then tacked on four more runs to take control. Foes helped herself with two hits and two RBIs, with Emillie Wright driving in two runs.
In the opener, VanHyfte (two hits, two RBIs) also homered as the Titans took a 7-2 lead into the top of the sixth. That's when Mercer County broke loose for its big 13-run inning, helped along by several walks and including a two-run Morgan Weeks homer and a two-run single by Hannah Kirkhove.
"We're kind of slow starters,'' said Staker, "but once we get started, we have a tendency to really get the ball rolling. We just need to do it sooner, and not put ourselves in a pressure situation.''