MERRILLVILLE | It shouldn't surprise anyone that Mercedes McClendon played baseball growing up. She barely even knew of the game of softball.
Her uncle, Lloyd McClendon, is the hitting coach for the Detroit Tigers. The Merrillville senior lived in Gary until she was seven. Then her family moved south.
"My father didn't like cheerleading, so he had me play with the boys," McClendon said of hitting baseballs all over the yard as a youngster. "I learned about softball the summer of my eighth-grade year, so I tried it, and I liked it."
As a freshman McClendon had the lowest batting average for the Pirates. The "rise ball" had her fishing. Those days ended long ago, though.
She batted .475 (28-of-59) as a sophomore with nine doubles and two home runs. She had five of the team's 22 total RBIs. Last year McClendon was 18-of-42 (.429) with two home runs and six of the team's 21 RBIs.
This year, through Tuesday's game against Valparaiso, McClendon is batting .500 (8-of-16) with two doubles and two RBIs. Her on-base percentage is .579.
All this on a team that's won six games in three seasons.
"I heard a lot about her when I started here," first-year Merrillville coach Dave Lopez said. "I heard she's a handful. She's fun, loud and she sometimes wears her emotions on her sleeve. I've coached a lot of very good players through the years and Mercedes is one of the best."
South Suburban College has shown a lot of interest in the power-hitting infielder. But every day when she walks to the field there are two signs that point to Merrillville's state titles in 1994 and 1997.
There are cob webs on the signs. In girls sports, Merrillville is a basketball town now, but Lopez and McClendon are trying to change all of that.
"My dad bought me a batting cage at home," McClendon said. "It's just rep, rep, rep and reps."
Getting younger girls in the community to play the game 12 months is all it will take to put Merrillville back on the softball map.
"The big thing right now is the lack of enthusiasm for the game," said Lopez, who used to coach at Griffith. "I've got to get the girls here excited about softball. There was no excitement at first. But we're working on that."
McClendon used to get upset after an error or a walk or a strikeout. The scoreboard hung heavy on the gal who plays winning travel softball in the summer.
Lopez said she always encouraged the inexperienced Pirates when they made a mistake. But she would make a face when she made an error. Lopez let her know that the Pirates were feeding off that negative energy.
"I have to find a way to correct our franchise," McClendon said. "To me I'm blessed to be on this team. A good player on a good team gets pushed to the back. I want the girls on our team to keep improving.
"We want to play our best softball once sectionals get here."