For the Mercy Academy softball team March could not have been much sweeter.
The Jaguars â€” No. 3 in the Kentucky Softball Coaches Association Top 25 â€” 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).
â€œI expected us to be a good hitting team â€¦ and very few people in the state have somebody they can throw out there thatâ€™s comparable to (Francis),â€ said Bloomer, who is in his eighth year leading the Jags.
Bound for Murray
A four-year starter, Francis was a member of Mercyâ€™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.
â€œI think J.J. is the best candidate,â€ he said. â€œNot only does she pitch, but she hits in our four hole and drives in runs. She does a little bit of everything.â€
Francis is batting .484 with 16 RBI, but wants to keep the spotlight on her team. â€œIâ€™m nothing without my teammates,â€ she said. â€œI 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.â€
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.
â€œI like to keep batters off balance,â€ she said. â€œI have a lot of moving pitches and Iâ€™m working on a drop ball this year.â€
Growing up, Francis watched Yankees games with her stepfather, but it wasnâ€™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.
â€œTo see the growth from where she was as a 12-year-old to where she is now has been somewhat phenomenal,â€ 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.
â€œWe feel like weâ€™ve got probably the most talent weâ€™ve had in the program,â€ Bloomer said. â€œWhat we want to do is just give ourselves an opportunity to be there in the end.â€
Other highlights from the first month of play (records and stats through April 1):
No. 1 Ballard (10-0) returned seven starters from last seasonâ€™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.
â€œWeâ€™ve got great offense, great defense and a lot of speed,â€ said coach Alan Jones. â€œFor us itâ€™s going to come down to pitching â€¦ and theyâ€™re getting better and better.â€
No. 6 Male (6-1) returned eight starters from last seasonâ€™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 Rocketsâ€™ 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 email@example.com.