CROWN POINT | Even though Valparaiso had beaten Merrillville twice in the regular season by a combined score of 13-0, the Vikings were a little nervous in the third inning of Monday night's Class 4A Crown Point Sectional opener against the Pirates.
Merrillville took a 1-0 lead in the first before Valpo scored twice in the bottom of the inning. But when Inesha Smith reached third with none out, the game was on the shoulders of Valpo pitcher Megan Krantz. And boy did the freshman deliver.
She struck out the next two Pirates and got the third on a pop out as the Vikings' bats would then get going in the 12-2 win.
Valpo (6-20) advanced to play Crown Point, which beat LaPorte 4-1 in Monday's second game.
"Our defense could've been a little stronger," said Krantz, who celebrated her 16th birthday on Monday, "but we got our bats going and we got a lot of runs. We needed to get out bats going. If they would've scored (in the third), the momentum would've shifted."
The Vikings scored seven runs in the bottom of the third inning on seven Merrillville errors. The Pirates (1-19) committed nine errors in the game.
"I credit the poise of our pitcher," Vikings coach Tracy Cornell said. "She really bared down in that inning. And then our ball striking was really good. We forced Merrillville to make some plays and I know they missed some. It helped us a lot."
Krantz tripled home a run in the first, then scored on Molly Grant's RBI single. Grant finished 2-for-3 with two runs. Madeline Shuta doubled home two in the third, while Alyssa Henke and Katherine Dalzotto each had RBI doubles in the inning.
Grant said the Vikings slowed their pitching machine to match Pirates' pitcher Jessica Vasquez.
"We were prepared for her speed," Grant said. "We had seen her two times before and we were ready this time. Yeah, we were a little nervous because this is a sectional game, but we held it together real well."
In similar fashion to the first game, the Bulldogs (16-8) scored three unearned runs and that was enough for freshman pitcher Rachael Centanni, who kept the defending sectional champion Slicers off balance for most of the game.