By Dave Barber, BDN
BREWER, Maine — As top-seeded Brewer tried to rally in the seventh inning Saturday night to keep its softball season going, Skowhegan’s Lyndsi Merrill dropped back to deep center to try to track down a high fly ball off the bat of the Witches’ No. 3 hitter, Morgan Small.
Her catch for the final out preserved the fourth-seeded Indians’ 5-2 victory in their Eastern Maine Class A semifinal at Coffin Field.
“I couldn’t see it,” senior center fielder Merrill said of the ball when it went up in the air. “I think it was the lights. I’m not used to them.”
She caught sight of the ball as it came down. Brewer’s Alexa Grindle, who had walked with two outs to keep the Witches’ hopes alive, was racing around the bases.
“I adjusted to it” and made the catch, said Merrill, who admitted to having butterflies as she waited to make the catch.
“Definitely. I still have ’em,” she said.
The Indians (13-5) face No. 7 Bangor (12-6) in the EM final Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Cony High School field in Augusta. Bangor downed No. 6 Oxford Hills of South Paris 11-5 Saturday afternoon.
Merrill is looking forward to the next game.
“I definitely didn’t want this to be my last game,” she said.
Skowhegan scored four times in the sixth inning, its first runs of the game, to erase the Witches’ 2-0 lead.
“We struggled with the bats [early in the game],” said Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson, “but I knew we’d come around.”
A bunt single by Merrill and a double by Shelby Obert, two of the Indians’ captains, opened the sixth for Skowhegan, but RBI fielder’s choices by Taylor Johnson and Kaitlyn Therriault plus two Brewer errors were other key components of the Indians’ scoring burst.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get a few bounces to go your way,” said Johnson.
The Witches (16-2) took a 2-0 lead on a pair of RBI doubles, the first by Alexa Grindle in the third inning and the other by Morgan Small in the fifth.
The Witches had numerous chances to score, but they couldn’t get the key hit to unlock the big innings. They stranded seven runners over the course of the game, including five in scoring position.
Two of those stranded were on second and third with two outs in the fifth after Small’s RBI double.
Freshman cleanup hitter Emily Gilmore smashed a line drive down the third-base line, but Skowhegan third baseman Obert dove to her right, snagged the waist-high drive and held on as she hit the ground.
“The momentum changed when the third baseman caught that ball,” said Brewer coach Skip Estes. “Then we made four or five mistakes, and that cost us.”
It was a far cry from the Skowhegan team that looked listless in a 12-0 loss to Cony a month ago. The Indians lost the next two after that, but have won six in a row since then.
“The kids have been playing really well of late,” said Johnson, adding, “I believe they can beat anyone at this point.”
Obert added an RBI double in the seventh and was the lone repeat hitter for the Indians. Pitcher Therriault struck out four, walked three and hit a batter in gaining the win.
Small was the only Witch with more than one hit as she also had a single in the first. She also crushed the ball in the seventh, but it was held up enough by the light breeze blowing in that Merrill was able to catch it to end the game.
Brewer pitcher Grindle struck out two and walked one.
“[Brewer] is a really good team, we just found a way to beat them,” said Johnson.
“This is one of the best groups I’ve coached, I think we can compete with anyone,” said Estes, “but those things happen.”
“Bangor and Skowhegan should be a great game,” he said.