Mercer wins first regional softball title

Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Darren Ransdell didn’t hesitate when he was asked what he enjoyed most about Mercer County’s championship.

The celebration was churning all around the Mercer coach after the Lady Titans completed a remarkable turnaround that took them from sub-.500 team to regional champion in just one season.

Mercer had never been to the top of the 12th Region and had seldom even come close, but the Lady Titans changed that Friday when they defeated Pulaski County 4-3 in a thrilling 12th Region Tournament title game on their home field.

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“Right there,” Ransdell said, pointing toward a group of giddy players. “They absolutely earned it. We just tried to put them in positions to make them successful, but they did it.”

A season’s worth of work came down to one shot at a state tournament berth, and two big plays made the difference for Mercer (18-9).

Peyton Boyd belted a grand slam home run in the third inning to put the Lady Titans on top, and Lily Hart threw out a runner from right field for a win that Boyd said can change the trajectory of the program.

“We’ve put so much work in, and we have really tried to change the culture as seniors and to bring the love and passion back into the game, and we’ve really had a fun time together,” Boyd said. “We have a really close group, and we really did change it this year.”

The Lady Titans will make their state tournament debut at 10 a.m. Thursday in a first-round game against Daviess County at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington.

Mercer had made the regional finals only once previously, losing to Boyle County in 2012, and this year it ended a string of four straight losing seasons and made the regional tournament for the first time in three years.

“It started back at the first of the season. We made a schedule with all these top-25 teams and we battled adversity trying to beat them,” Ransdell said. “Going through the season, battling adversity and learning how to manage the highs and lows will help you win a 1-0 ballgame or a one-run game.”

Mercer trailed 1-0 but loaded the bases in the third inning when Boyd launched a two-out bomb over the left-center field fence. The senior was screaming as she rounded the bases and saw her teammates waiting for her at home plate.

“I was just screaming at the top of my lungs,” she said. “It was the most exhilarating feeling I think I’ve ever felt in my whole life. It’s the best way to go out that I could have ever thought of.”

Pulaski (30-7) pulled within 4-3 in the sixth inning and had a runner on second base with two outs in the seventh when Avery Davis smacked a hit to right field. Hart came up throwing and fired a strike to catcher Haylee Ransdell, who tagged the Lady Maroons’ Maggie Gregory to end the game.

“That was just a different type of feeling. You’re very nervous, but once (the umpire) called her out I was just very excited,” Haylee Ransdell said. “I felt certain that she was out.”

Mercer has four seniors at the top of its roster, and Darren Ransdell said their leadership has been invaluable, but the Lady Titans also start freshmen and eighth-graders.

They got off to an 8-2 start but came back to earth with five straight losses near midseason.

“I told everybody, ‘Don’t judge us in March, judge us at the end of the year,” Ransdell said. “They are peaking right now. They’re the hottest team there is around here.”