WINDHAM — Perseverance took center stage in Wednesday’s softball season opener between Merrimack and Windham.
Five lead changes were recorded before the host Jaguars secured the final one thanks to a two-out, two-run walk off home run in the eighth inning by junior Lindsey Murphy to give Windham a 9-8 victory.
For the Jaguars, the win marked their first as a Division I program after eight years as a Division II entry. On top of that, it also was career win No. 100 for the school and its only head coach, Dave Hedge.
“Lindsey had been struggling today,” said Hedge, who is 100-47 at Windham. “But she has matured greatly and she trusted herself in that at-bat. The 100th win is great for the program and great for the school. In nine seasons as a softball program it is great, and getting it in our first Division I game is pretty special.”
Windham took a 7-3 lead in its half of the fifth before the Tomahawks rallied for three runs in the sixth and one in the seventh to tie it.
Then, in the top of the eighth, Merrimack took the lead on an RBI double off the bat of Demetria Gonzalez. But in the bottom of the frame, the Jaguars responded. A walk to Peyton Gravell was followed by two quick outs. With Murphy up, Merrimack relief pitcher Emma Pfeifer picked up two quick strikes on a pair of change-ups. But the righty then fired a fastball down the middle that Murphy belted over the center-field fence to end things.
Windham took a 2-0 lead on a two-run homer from Larissa Piessens. The Tomahawks roared back with three in the fourth on a two-run Grace Lawton triple and a Jaguars error.
In the bottom of the inning, Windham got key RBIs from Gravell, Piessens and Grace Bono to retake the lead 6-3. Makayla Panich’s RBI double in the fifth had the Jaguars on top by four runs.
But Merrimack battled back. An opposite field triple by Ashlynn Cassetty scored a pair of runs and Erin Knauer’s bunt single brought Cassetty in. The Tomahawks knotted the game one frame later after Lindsey Hui tripled and scored on Lawton’s double.
“The girls were never out of it at any point,” said Merrimack first-year coach Greg Cochrane. “We were one out away but that girl put a good swing on that pitch. If you got to take a loss this is the type we want because it was a momentum loss. This was a game I felt was ours to get and I see good things down the road for us.”
Windham had a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh. But with the bases loaded and one out, Amelia Williamson lined into a double play.
“The girls never give up and will go down fighting,” Hedge said. “They shook off the double play and came back.”