BANGOR, Maine — Mary Merrill joked that her husband, Jim, will kill her for telling a story about him when he was helping nurture eldest daughters Kayla and Lyndsay’s interest in softball.
“He used to sing ‘I love softball’ to them,” chuckled Mary Merrill.
Jim fessed up.
“And I also used to make them say ‘I love softball,’” quipped Jim Merrill.
It worked, and their latest beneficiary is Husson University of Bangor.
“[The Merrill sisters] have definitely been a huge part of our team,” said Husson junior co-captain and left fielder Haley Spiers.
“Softball has been the love of their lives since they were 5 years old,” said Mary Merrill, a teacher.
Junior pitcher-third baseman Kayla Merrill and sophomore second baseman Lyndsay Merrill have led the Eagles to a 30-10 record and a berth in the four-team, double-elimination NCAA Division III Regional at Kean University (N.J.) beginning Friday.
Third seed Husson, six-time North Atlantic Conference champs, will take on No. 2 seed Kean (32-11) at 3:30 p.m.
The Merrills, who led Telstar High School in their native Bethel to consecutive state Class C championships in 2010-11, are softball junkies.
“They’re extremely passionate about softball. They work really hard in and out of season and it shows,” said Husson coach Kristie Hawkins.
Jim Merrill said if they had a bad game in high school, they would want to work on their deficiencies that same night.
Their father, a truck driver, has been the biggest influence on their careers. Jim Merrill caught and pitched for the state Class C champion Telstar baseball team in 1989.
“He always worked with us. He’d play toss or hit ground balls and fly balls to us. He has always been there for us,” said Kayla.
“He was our inspiration. He pushed us,” said Lyndsay, noting he had coached them at various times during their careers..
Pitching instructor Kim Lavoie and Telstar coach Jim Lunney have also played key roles in their development, as has Husson hitting coach Terry Hall, according to their parents.
They said their mother has been just as supportive and pointed out that their parents rarely miss a game despite the fact it is 137 miles from Bethel to Bangor.
The sisters work out together religiously in the offseason. They often drive from Bangor to Bethel on Sundays, beginning in November, to help their father run a free clinic for all ages, including their 11-year-old sister Lauren.
“It’s special to have Lyndsay up here with me. We work hard every day together,” said Kayla.
They have always been on the same team.
“We motivate each other,” said Lyndsay. “We made it a goal this season to [help the team] be on top and to push each other as hard as we can. We have little competitions. If one of us hits a homer, the other wants to hit one, too.”
They are close and share an apartment.
“They’re best friends,” said teammate Amanda Ryan.
However, their personalities are “extremely different,” according to their mother.
“Kayla is very social and very outgoing. She’s outspoken. Lyndsay is much more introverted. She keeps more to herself,” said Mary Merrill.
“But once you get her going, Lyndsay is pretty funny,” Ryan said.
“Lyndsay isn’t as outgoing as I am but I feel we do have similarities, too,” said Kayla Merrill, who is 19 months older than her sister. “We’re both very positive people.”
Kayla Merrill, who is 21, is a nursing major and 19-year-old Lyndsay is a sports management major.
“They have different personalities but they’re cut from the same mold, that’s for sure,” said Hawkins.
The Merrills admit that they get into an occasional disagreement.
“We’re pretty much with each other 24-7 and a lot of people say, ‘You must get on each other’s nerves.’ But we get along. We hardly ever fight,” said Lyndsay.
“It’s definitely beneficial to get home and be able to vent to her. She’s always there for me,” said Kayla.
Softball is a common topic of discussion.
“We completely analyze every game,” said Lyndsay.
They have been pleased with their seasons but they aren’t satisfied.
They are one-two on the team is most offensive categories.
Kayla Merrill leads the team in batting average (.409), hits (56), runs (44), homers (9), runs batted in (45) and slugging percentage (.737), while Lyndsay is second in those categories, as she is hitting .383 with 54 hits, 41 runs, six homers, 36 RBIs and a .674 slugging percentage. Lyndsay has a team-high seven triples while Kayla is second with five.
Kayla Merrill and Brewer senior Ryan have been the mound aces, as Merrill is 14-3 with a 2.29 earned run average, while Ryan is 12-7 with a 2.91 ERA.
“We try not to look at stats for each other. We just try to come off the field and say, ‘What could I have done better or what could I do differently?” said Kayla. “That has really helped us out. I can’t emphasize enough how much our work in the offseason is responsible for where we are today.”
Hall said their swings are different.
“Kayla has more bat speed. She’s a line drive hitter. Lyndsay tends to hit the ball farther thanks to her leg power,” said Hall.
Both girls have learned new positions this season.
Kayla had been a shortstop as well as a pitcher in high school.
“I absolutely love third base. But I like to pitch just as much because you have more control over the game,” said Kayla.
Lyndsay had been a shortstop and a catcher before moving to second.
When they aren’t studying or playing softball, they embrace the outdoors.
They like to ride all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles and they both hunt.
Lyndsay shot a buck in her first-ever hunting experience.
This weekend, they will be hunting for NCAA Tournament victories after the school won its first-ever NCAA tournament game last season. Husson is 1-10 in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going down there with more confidence this year,” said Kayla. “We’ve played some NCAA Tournament teams at different times and we know we can compete with them.”