Oxford Hills’ Brooke Carson, center, is congratulated by junior Lauren W. Merrill, right, and Madison Day after hitting a home run. (Brewster Burns photo)

SOUTH PARIS — No question a handful of errors sabotaged Mt. Blue’s swift and promising start, but Oxford Hills reliever Lauren N. Merrill changed the look and feel of Tuesday’s Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference softball game when she stepped into the circle.

Merrill came in the third inning with the Cougars leading 2-1 and went immediately to work on Mt. Blue’s offense. She helped set down the side for the next three innings and had six strikeouts as the Vikings finished the season at 13-3 with a 13-3 victory.

The loss dashed Mt. Blue’s hopes for a postseason appearance. The Cougars finish the year at 5-11.

“They hit well off (Sydney Crocker). They kind of came out strong and once Lauren (Merrill) came in and kind of shut them down, kind of took the flight out their sails a little bit and kind of boosted up,” Oxford Hills coach Cindy Goddard said. “She is not only our starting pitcher, but we are a team of 12 players.

“We really like to use everyone because everyone has a role on the team. Everyone is important. I think Syd threw more effective in the seventh inning than she did in the first inning.”

The Cougars got a jump start on the Vikes when Mt. Blue scored two runs using three hits. Ace Provencher and Gracie Foss each ripped RBI singles to give Mt. Blue a 2-0 lead.

But the Vikes got back into and put their first run on the board when Kaisa Heikkinen got on with a walk, moved to third base on a past ball and scored on Kenzie Kahkonen’s flyout to center field.

Oxford Hills starter Sydney Crocker was replaced in the third inning with Merrill, who also is a starting pitcher for the Vikes.

With Merrill slowing up the Cougars, the Vikings’ offense went on a tear in the third inning, scoring three runs.

Catcher Lauren W. Merrill started the inning with a double and moved to third on a Brooke Carson bunt. Merrill came home when Madison Starbird walked and tried to steal second to divert the infield’s attention.

It worked.

The Vikes scored two more runs on a pair of Mt. Blue errors and were now in command with a 4-2 lead.

Oxford Hills had a grand fourth inning, too. The Vikes picked up a couple of more runs on several errors and Carson sent the ball over the fence for a two-run homer, providing her team with an 8-2 lead.

Oxford Hills picked up another run in the fifth when Kahkonen blasted a homer.

The Cougars collected a run in the top of the sixth. Rylee Briggs got on with her second hit of the game and scored on Jacelyn Daggett’s RBI single.

But Oxford Hills answered in the bottom of that inning with four runs, using an error and RBI singles by Heikkinen and Ashley Childs.

“You can’t give bad teams six outs an inning. So, obviously, when you give good teams six outs an inning, it hurts really bad,” Mt. Blue coach Ron Smith said. “The first couple of innings we came out swinging the bat, played defense and it kind of spiraled from there.

“It is the story of our second half (of the season). We were 5-3 the first eight games and 0-8 in the second half.

“I saw a lot of good things (this season). I think we are better in a lot of aspects. We lose two ladies off our team. Everybody else comes back. We will see when they come back next and see what happens then.”

With teammate Madison Starbird ready, Oxford Hills sophomore Lauren N. Merrill delivers a pitch against Mt. Blue. (Brewster Burns photo)

Mt. Blue’s Samantha Ellis attempts to bunt a high pitch against Oxford Hills on Tuesday. (Brewster Burns photo)Oxford Hills’ Brooke Carson goes down low to execute a successful sacrifice bunt. (Brewster Burns photo)Mt. Blue third baseman Aislynn Provencher watches her throw to third first base to get an out. (Brewster Burns photo)Mt. Blue’s Adelle Foss pitches to Oxford Hills junior Lauren W. Merrill. (Brewster Burns photo)Mt. Blue centerfielder Macey Phillips puts the tag on Oxford Hills’ Madison Starbird whose attempt to advance a base resulted in an Oxford Hills run. (Brewster Burns photo)Mt. Blue third baseman Aislynn Provencher thows from her knees to get Oxford Hills’ Kenzie Kahkonen at first. (Brewster Burns photo)Oxford Hills’ Madison Day, left, prepares to score on teammate Kori Kahkonen’s ground ball to Mt. Blue third baseman Aislynn Provencher. (Brewster Burns photo)

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