For the Mercy Academy softball team March could not have been much sweeter.
The Jaguars — No. 3 in the Kentucky Softball Coaches Association Top 25 — built a perfect 12-0 record in the month, including wins over No. 6 Male, co-No. 10 Scott County (twice), co-No. 10 Central Hardin, No. 19 Bullitt East and No. 20 Butler.
A trip to the Lady Warrior Classic in Tennessee last weekend netted four wins as Mercy outscored opponents 34-1.
Coach Josh Bloomer attributed the strong start to efficiency at the plate and several bang-up outings from standout senior pitcher J.J. Francis (7-0, two saves).
“I expected us to be a good hitting team … and very few people in the state have somebody they can throw out there that’s comparable to (Francis),” said Bloomer, who is in his eighth year leading the Jags.
Bound for Murray
A four-year starter, Francis was a member of Mercy’s state runner-up teams in 2009 and 2010. Last season, she went 24-6 with a .837 ERA and earned first-team All-State honors. In November, Francis signed to play college ball at Murray State.
Bloomer believes his ace should be a top contender for Miss Softball.
“I think J.J. is the best candidate,” he said. “Not only does she pitch, but she hits in our four hole and drives in runs. She does a little bit of everything.”
Francis is batting .484 with 16 RBI, but wants to keep the spotlight on her team. “I’m nothing without my teammates,” she said. “I just want to focus on our goals and if an individual accomplishment comes out of that, I (would be) more than happy to receive that award.”
A New Pitch
In the circle this season Francis has a .508 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 41 innings and is honing a new pitch.
“I like to keep batters off balance,” she said. “I have a lot of moving pitches and I’m working on a drop ball this year.”
Growing up, Francis watched Yankees games with her stepfather, but it wasn’t until she joined the Louisville Lady Sluggers summer travel team as a 12-year-old that she committed to pitching. Bloomer coached that team and marveled at her progress.
“To see the growth from where she was as a 12-year-old to where she is now has been somewhat phenomenal,” he said.
If Francis and the Jaguars are to make their third trip to the state tournament in four years, they will first need to claw out of a Seventh Region that includes top-ranked Ballard, No. 6 Male, No. 9 Assumption and No. 18 Eastern.
“We feel like we’ve got probably the most talent we’ve had in the program,” Bloomer said. “What we want to do is just give ourselves an opportunity to be there in the end.”
Other highlights from the first month of play (records and stats through April 1):
No. 1 Ballard (10-0) returned seven starters from last season’s state runner-up team and has notched early wins over No. 19 Bullitt East and No. 23 Oldham County. Freshman catcher/1B Alexis Hall is batting .564, while sophomore Jessica Adell (P/CF), a Tennessee commit, has a .484 average.
Freshman pitcher Allison Wiseman (6-0) struck out seven in the final of the Ballard Invitational on March 31, a 6-1 win over Henry Clay.
“We’ve got great offense, great defense and a lot of speed,” said coach Alan Jones. “For us it’s going to come down to pitching … and they’re getting better and better.”
No. 6 Male (6-1) returned eight starters from last season’s 20-8 team, including seniors Madi Phillips (catcher, .600), Katie Watson (SS, .471) and Taylor Messex (CF, .438). Junior pitcher Ally Miozza is 5-1 and has averaged eight strikeouts per game.
Assumption is 7-1-1 under first-year coach Jennifer Hunt. Senior pitcher Morgan Foley has a 5-0 record, including a 2-1 win over then-No. 1 Allen County-Scottsville on March 24. Sophomore Lillie Nitzken (.538) homered in each of the ninth-ranked Rockets’ first four games.
Freshman first baseman Rachel Kelley has three homers for No. 18 Eastern (5-3) and Casey Smith (So., P) is 5-2.
After dropping its first three games, No. 20 Butler (3-3) has won three-straight and is getting major production from senior second baseman Jordan Hollis (.429) and senior catcher Bekah Ellis (.400). Mallory Evans, a senior pitcher, is 3-1.
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at firstname.lastname@example.org.