Mercer looks to future after falling in state softball debut

Published 1:30 pm Tuesday, June 11, 2024

A bitter ending could only be the beginning for Mercer County softball.

The Lady Titans did not fare well in their first trip to the state tournament, getting bounced out of the bracket with a run-rule loss to a top-five team, but they left John Cropp Stadium with a better idea of where they want to be – and an even stronger desire to get there.

Young players who helped Mercer claw its way to the top of the 12th Region said they were hungry for more after the Lady Titans lost to Daviess County 13-0 in five innings Thursday in a first-round game.

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“We’re just going to grind and keep this feeling in us and let it fuel us for next season,” said eighth-grader Ava Musick, one of five underclassmen who started the game and one of nine who saw action for Mercer.

Players say that every year, of course, but Mercer has given every indication this spring that it is a program on the rise and that it could return to the statewide stage next year and in years to come if its growth curve continues on the same trajectory.

Mercer coach Darren Ransdell said after meeting with his players that virtually all of them were bothered by the result they got in their state tournament debut, and he plans to stoke that fire when the team reconvenes.

“It wasn’t just the senior upsets. Every single player that left here is upset,” Ransdell said. “So we talked about the fire that they have. It should hurt. Losing does hurt. A lot of people want to put the emphasis on winning, but it’s not all about winning; it’s about losing, and it kills you. When you’ve got that fire in your belly, it hurts.”

The pain came early for Mercer (18-10), as Daviess (29-6) dropped four runs before the Lady Titans even came to bat in the first inning. Molly Hancock delivered the big blow, a three-run home run that was one of five extra-base hits in the Lady Panthers’ 16-hit assault.

Daviess, which had lost to only one Kentucky school this season prior to the state tourney, added two runs in the second inning and put the game out of reach with a six-run third inning that included three doubles.

Six Daviess players had multiple hits before coach John Biggs began emptying his bench in the late innings.

“They were solid. They were good, a very good team,” said Ashley Howard, the Mercer starting pitcher who was chased after 2 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, Mercer’s offense couldn’t get much done against Daviess pitcher Sophia Cain. Four batters reached on walks and one was hit by a pitch, but only two of them got into scoring position.

The Lady Titans were without a hit until Haylee Ransdell’s two-out single to left field in the fourth, and that was the only one they got.

“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted. I’m still beyond proud of my team for making it here,” Howard said. “The biggest thing Darren talked about this year was changing the culture, and we did that and it carried us so far this year.”

Howard and her fellow seniors played a big part in that. All four are expected to play college softball – Howard at Centre, Peyton Boyd at Carson-Newman, Haylee Ransdell at Asbury and Hanna Beasley at a school to be determined – and Darren Ransdell said he expects all of them to keep an eye on their alma mater in the years to come.

“Every chance they have a break, I know where they’ll be,” the coach said. “They’re great leaders and they lead by example.”

Howard said she believes the leadership of the upperclassmen helped a young team come together.

“I really feel like that helped us become a close, tight-knit team. We were a really young team this year, and when we started out in September a lot of us didn’t know each other, but as the year went on everybody began to trust each other, and I believe that’s really what got us here.”

Where they go from here remains to be seen, but Ransdell said he was encouraged by a conversation he had with Biggs, the Daviess coach who has taken his team to the last five state tournaments.

“He told me we are where they were five years ago, and they’re on a five-year run in state,” Ransdell said.

And Musick said it will be important to remember not only what it took to get to the state tournament for the first time, but what their loss felt like as well.

“(Remember) the feeling that we have right now and let’s just go to work when we start back in September,” she said.