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Farmington Hills

June 6, 2012

Mercy softball finding its stride, and power, while playoffs unfold

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Mercy’s Megan Tarrance rips a hit during a recent game. Mercy rolled through its district and moves on to the Novi regional June 9 against Groves.

As the 2012 regular season played out, Nancy Malinowski saw her team taking the necessary steps, moving in a direction she saw fit based on the potential she saw on her roster.

Whether the Farmington Hills Mercy softball team can be considered great, time will certainly tell, but on June 2, the girls weren’t too far off.

“You like to think we’re peaking at the right time,” Malinowski said moments after claiming a Division 1 district title at North Farmington. “I mean, to score 26 runs in two games and hit the ball the way we did, it was a pretty great effort from our girls.”

The Marlins got a bit of a scare early in the day, learning that an injury may have sidelined star pitcher Kayce Nieto.

But as she has so many times in her four years on varsity, Nieto walked into the circle and dominated.

In the semifinal, facing the same North Farmington team that eliminated Mercy in the district final last year with a seventh-inning comeback, the Marlins scored 10 runs while Nieto kept the Raiders’ hitters guessing.

The 10-0 win was just a preview of the power to come, though.

In the final, against a 21-win Farmington Hills Harrison team, Mercy scored three times in the second inning, eight times in the third and five more in the fourth and final frame for a 16-0 win.

Nieto, injury and all, struck out 11 of the 12 batters she faced.

“That’s a very special player,” Harrison skipper Kristen Zabalavicius said of Nieto.

The district title was the first for Mercy since 2010.

“This was huge for us,” Nieto said after the game. “We all remember what happened last year and how close we came. This is something we’ve been thinking about since that loss.”

“The kids are really putting it together right now, and that’s what you love to see,” Malinowski said calmly. “Our defense and pitching has been strong all year, but now the offense is really finding itself.”

Mercy, now 25-8, will look for its first regional title since 2007 when the girls travel to Novi High for a semifinal against Beverly Hills Groves (23-13) at noon June 9.

The final, set for 2:30 p.m., will feature either Northville High or Walled Lake Northern.

“We’re a very confident group right now,” Nieto added. “We feel good about our chances. We feel like when we’re on our game, there isn’t anyone out there we can’t beat.”

No shame in the loss
While the final setback ended Harrison’s season, Zabalavicius wasn’t about to let it take away from what was an awesome spring.

The Hawks ended the 2012 campaign with a 21-14 record, and the 3-1 victory against Novi High in the district semi marked the first playoff win for the program since 2006.

“This loss doesn’t take anything away from the year we had,” Zabalavicius added. “This whole season was a great success.”

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.