Oxford Hills’ Kenzie Kahkonen gets ready to tag out Hampden Academy’s Brooklyn Scott, who was trying to stretch a double into a triple during Saturday’s Class A North semifinal at Gouin Athletic Complex. (Lee Horton/Sun Journal)

PARIS — Lauren Merrill took the circle for second-seeded Oxford Hills and allowed only five Hampden Academy base runners in six-and-a-third innings to lead the Vikings to a 6-1 win over the sixth-seeded Broncos in a Class A North softball quarterfinal Saturday.

The Vikings wasted no time getting to work at the plate. Ashley Childs started the game with a single off of Hampden pitcher Sydney Hatch. That was followed by a single and a walk to load the bases. Kenzie Kahkonen slapped a fly ball into right field for a sacrifice, scoring Childs.

Merrill stepped up to the plate next and hit a single into the outfield that drove in two, and just like that it was 3-0.

“It took off a lot of pressure like, ‘OK, we can hit her,’” Oxford Hills coach Cynthia Goddard said. “You never know, a day like today, those long fly balls could be really good shots but then just stay up.”

The three-run lead that Merrill helped build was more than enough for the sophomore hurler. Merrill threw only 17 pitches in the second, third and fourth innings combined, as eight of the nine outs were ground balls.

“It’s kind of fun when it’s pitch, ground ball, and then an out,” Goddard said. “No momentum can kind of get going, there’s no fly balls that can be anything. It’s one, two, three and then we can play offense, which is fun.”

While Hampden struggled offensively, Oxford Hills also went through ebbs and flows at the plate. Hatch struck out the first batter she saw in the second, but later Brooke Carson reached third on an error by a Hampden outfielder. Childs was next up but popped out, and then Carson was doubled-up on the throw back to third.

After a perfect third from Hatch, Merrill stepped up and legged out an infield single to short.

Merrill helped her own cause often throughout Saturday’s game.

“I think my last two hits started the inning, and those were two big inning starters for us,” Merrill said. “Once you start with someone on base, it starts the whole team up and gives us a lot of energy.”

Merrill’s pinch-runner, Olivia Gallen, scored on a single by Carson and increased the Vikings’ lead to four. Hatch was able to get out of the fourth with two runners stranded on base, which gave Hampden some hope once again.

In the top of the fifth inning, Merrill gave up three singles in a row to Hatch, Libby Hughes and Samantha Ouellette to begin the inning. With no outs, Merrill found herself in a jam.

Erin Mitchell grounded into a fielder’s choice, as Oxford Hills got the out at home. While Eliza Murphy was at the plate, Childs couldn’t stop a Merrill pitch and it deflected to the backstop, allowing Hughes to score Hampden’s only run.

“I was just trying to get a ground ball; a strikeout would have been the best instance, but a groundout is what I was looking for because a pop fly they still could have scored,” Merrill said.

Goddard knew how big Merrill’s pitching was to keep the Vikings’ playoff run alive.

“There was that fifth inning where they started getting going and so it was a little nerve-wracking,” Goddard said. “But Lauren is a competitor, and so are the people behind her.”

In the sixth inning, Hampden’s Brooklyn Scott hit a fly ball into right field. As Scott was rounding second, right fielder Makayla Starbird rocketed a throw to second baseman Madison Starbird, who made the throw to third to tag out Scott. That was the last time Oxford Hills let a runner past first base.

Merrill hit another single to start the sixth inning, and her pinch runner was batted home by Haley Dillingham. Kahkonen also scored later in the inning to put the bow on the game.

“It’s all fun at this point,” Goddard said. “You’ve got to perform and have all your elements — hitting, base running and pitching — all working at the same time, and I think this group is ready to do it.”

The Vikings will face top-seeded Skowhegan on Tuesday in the A North championship at Winslow High School. Skowhegan defeated Edward Little 8-0 on Saturday.

Oxford Hills’ Brooke Carson and Hampden catcher Emily Dysart wait for the pitch from Broncos pitcher Sydney Hatch during Saturday’s Class A North semifinal at Gouin Athletic Complex. (Lee Horton/Sun Journal)Oxford Hills catcher Ashley Childs throws to third base after getting Hampden’s Sydney Hatch with a force out at home during Saturday’s Class A North semifinal at Gouin Athletic Complex. (Lee Horton/Sun Journal)Lauren N. Merrill of Oxford Hills pitches against Hampden during Saturday’s Class A North semifinal at Gouin Athletic Complex. Vikings shortstop Kaisa Heikkinen (4) gets ready defensively behind Merrill. (Lee Horton/Sun Journal)Oxford Hills pitcher Lauren N. Miller throws to the plate as shortstop Kaisa Heikkinen (4) gets in defensive position during Saturday’s Class A North semifinal at Gouin Athletic Complex. (Lee Horton/Sun Journal)Hampden Academy outfielder Erin Mitchell make a catch during Saturday’s Class A North semifinal at Gouin Athletic Complex. (Lee Horton/Sun Journal)Hampden Academy’s Sydney Hatch pitches against Oxford Hillls during Saturday’s Class A North semifinal at Gouin Athletic Complex. (Lee Horton/Sun Journal)


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