Belans scores winning run with triple, Mercy defeats Kettering, 3-2, to advance to quarterfinals for first time in eight years
Novi – Wind gusts played tricks with many pop ups and fly balls on Saturday but the magic Andrea Elmore displayed on a sunny and pleasant afternoon, and throughout the state tournament, trumped any external factors.
Nicole Belans’ RBI triple with two outs in the top of the eighth inning gave Farmington Hills Mercy a 3-2 lead and Elmore set the side down in order in the bottom half as Elmore and Mercy survived a scary seventh to defeat Waterford Kettering in a Division 1 regional final at Novi.
Mercy (26-3) will play Clarkston (40-2) in a quarterfinal on Tuesday at Novi.
Mercy led 2-0 on RBI singles by Sophie Van Acker in the first and Abby Krzywiecki in the fifth.
Elmore, who tossed two perfect (five inning) games in the district and beat Northville 4-0 on four hits in a regional semifinal, was cruising along until starting pitcher Madison French opened the sixth with a triple for Kettering. Sara Brackins singled home French but Elmore retired the next three batters on ground outs.
“She got a little gassed in the sixth,” Mercy senior catch Alex Sobczak said.
The day began to wear on Elmore. Mercy’s game with Northville was tied going into the seventh before Anna Kiafoulis belted a 3-run triple to propel the Marlins into the final.
Lexi Weston opened the seventh with a single for Kettering, went to second on a ground out and scored the tying run on Taylor Reno’s single. Sarah Amenson’s bunt single put runners on the corners and French was walked intentionally to load the bases. Elmore struck out Balkins and went to a 3-2 count on Katie Root when Sobczak made walk to the circle.
“I told her to trust herself and her teammates,” Sobczak said. “It’s tough pitching with the bases loaded. I told her she wasn’t out here alone.”
A nervous Elmore retired Root on a soft line drive to send the game to extra innings.
“I was shaking a lot,” Elmore said. “I had to get it done for my teammates. I was a little tired. I was more focused on what I had to do for my teammates.”
Jordan Johnson opened the eighth with a single for Mercy and Molly Murphy bunted for a sacrifice. An out later Belans hit a fly ball down the line in right that the wind took away from the right fielder. It landed fair by two feet.
“I Thought she might catch it at first,” Belans said. “That seventh inning was really, really nerve-racking.”
Mercy coach Alec Lesko said Elmore pitched the way she’d done all season and the decision to walk French was an easy one to make even though first base was occupied.
“It set up a force at home, for one,” Lesko said. “You look in their dugout and you see two or three players who you don’t want to eat you. (French) is a great player.
“We responded well in the eighth. Nicole is a sophomore who’s doing the right stuff. She’s hitting around .400 and she’s going to put the bat on the ball.”
Kettering (28-13), a team with seven sophomores, didn’t start the season well but have played well as of late. The Captains, behind the pitching of French, defeated Hartland 6-0 in a regional semifinal.
“We kind of found ourselves the last month,” Kettering coach Al Land said. “I thought we had to win it in the seventh. I didn’t want to go extra innings. It was the momentum thing. They led the whole game and then we tied it. When (Root) hit it I thought it was going to go through.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Highlights from this game can be seen on the State Champs! HS Sports Show on Fox Sports Detroit on Sunday morning at 9:00 am