The Mercer County Community College softball team combined dominant pitching with timely hits and solid defense in a weekend sweep of Mercyhurst in North East, Pennsylvania, to capture the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II District K championship and earning a berth in the 2018 World Series in Clinton, Mississippi.
“This is a gutsy bunch — they never say die,” head coach Ryan Zegarski said. “They always came up with the big hit, and somebody different always stepped up.”
MCCC won the best-of-three tournament, sweeping Mercyhurst 5-3 and 14-2. The first game was a seesaw battle that wasn’t decided until the 11th inning. Mercyhurst was first to score with a single tally in the third inning, with MCCC coming back to take the lead with three runs in the top of the sixth. Mercyhurst answered with two in the bottom of the seventh to knot up the game at three all, where it remained until the top of the 11th, when Mercer plated two more to put the Vikings on top for good.
Pitcher Kaley Wise of Hamilton, a Steinert High School graduate, pitched all 11 innings for the Vikings. Carley Bailey of Allentown hit a two-run triple in the sixth to give Mercer its first lead, and Sophia Beretski, Levittown, Pennsylvania, hit a two-run homer in the 11th to put Mercer up for good. Wise came back to sit down Merceyhurst in order to notch the win.
“Mercyhurst did not go away easily,” Zegarski said. “They fought until the last out.”
In game two, Tatum Marshall, Bordentown, took the hill for Mercer. The Vikings struck early and struck often, scoring three runs each in the first, third and fourth innings, with two runs in the fifth. The only inning MCCC failed to score was the second; Mercyhurst could only manage two runs — both in the fourth — for a final score of 14-2.
“At that point, momentum was on our side,” Zegarski said. “Our goal was to put a crooked number up on the board, and do it early. We got off to a fast start.”
In addition to her two-run, four-hit performance on the mound, Marshall contributed at the plate with two hits, two runs, and an RBI. Gabriella Early of Brown Mills was the offensive powerhouse in the contest, with five RBI on a four-for-four performance, including two homers. Alisha Patel, Burlington, was three-for-four with an RBI and Cailyn Seely, Levittown drove in four, going two-for-four at the plate, including her first career home run.
The Vikings are now headed to Clinton, Mississippi for the 2018 NJCAA Division II Softball World Series. The team will play their first game on May 16 in the 16-team, double-elimination tournament, against an opponent that is yet to be determined.
“These players come every day, they work hard, and they want to be here,” Zegarski said. “They will be seeing top notch competition like we haven’t seen all year, but we are going down there to compete in every inning, in every game.”
The team goes into the national tournament with a record of 37-6-1 and ranked 14th in the nation. This will be the fifth time in MCCC history that a softball team has qualified for the NJCAA World Series, and the third during Zegarski’s tenure as head coach, with the last appearance in 2010.
Zegarski is assisted by Tom DeStefano and John Simone.