STANDISH – One of the last things Kayla Merrill expected to be doing this season was pitching in the Western Maine final.

It wasn\’t that the sophomore doubted Telstar\’s chances of getting to the Western C game for a fifth straight year. She just expected that when and if the Rebels advanced that far, veteran Candace Hall would be the obvious starter.

“I never thought of that possibility,” she admits. “I didn\’t even think of it until a couple weeks ago. It didn\’t even occur to me.”

When the Mountain Valley Conference championship game arrived, it was Merrill\’s turn to pitch. Coach Jim Lunney decided against it, and went with Hall. The Rebels won, giving Georges Valley its first setback of the season.

“I explained to Kayla in the MVC game that it was her turn to pitch, but I said \’K, I\’m not using you today. This game is not the big game. The big game is down the road. Candace is still our No. 1, but I don\’t want them to see you,\'” said Lunney.

That put the thought of pitching for a championship in Merrill and Lunney\’s heads, and when it came time to choose a starter for last week\’s regional final against two-time defending champion Georges Valley, Lunney had a tough choice.

“Here I am, \’Who do I start?\'” said Lunney, who filled out the lineup cards unsure of which pitcher to use. “(Merrill) pitched a whale of a game the other day against Jay.”

Though Hall was the senior and pitched in the last two regional finals, Lunney took a chance and went with the sophomore.

It proved to be a wise choice.

Merrill baffled the Bucs, a team that had averaged seven runs per game. Merrill allowed just three hits through the first five innings and ended up scattering seven overall while striking out four and walking none. Meanwhile, Hall was outstanding in the field at shortstop, making plays on six of the 21 outs in the game.

“That was a big thing for us, having two pitchers,” said Lunney. “I think that was huge for us. We had a second pitcher that they hadn\’t seen. She slammed the door. This is the Western Maine final. She stepped up like a champion. She didn\’t walk anybody, and she didn\’t throw any balls in the dirt. She stepped up and did a whale of a job.”

 

The win puts Telstar back in the Class C state championship game, where the Rebels won in 2006 in large part thanks to a pitching tandem of Jillian Kimball and Jessie Farrington.

The fact that Merrill was ready to pitch and perform so well is a testament to her hard work this season. She\’d been limited early on because off offseason wrist surgery.

“She threw some, but she couldn\’t throw hard,” said Lunney. “She had to take some time off. She\’s one of those players that I can play anywhere.”

She gradually worked her way back. One of her first tests was to pitch against Jay in the middle of the season. She did well as the Rebels rallied to beat the Tigers in nine innings. When she pitched against the Tigers again in the semifinals, she was even better. She struck out 10 and allowed just one hit in the 1-0, nine-inning win.

“She was doing it before but at the beginning of the season, she couldn\’t do it and was getting frustrated,” said Sam Largess, a junior catcher, who has caught Merrill since middle school. “Now, the playoffs are here and she\’s really stepping up her game.”

In addition to building her confidence, she\’s gained velocity and control. She\’s worked on a variety of pitches and sees great improvement.

“She\’s gotten a lot faster and is hitting her corners,” said Largess. “She\’s throwing more junk and making the ball move.”

By the time, Merrill was told she would get the nod against the Bucs, she was ready.

“We had been talking about it the last couple of days,” she said. “Me and Candace stayed late after practice to throw (Monday). I was surprised but extremely happy.”


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