‘Merrill!’ Freshman delivers in pinch
Iowa Western Community College was by no means comfortable Friday night. In fact, the Reivers’ faithful looked downright uncomfortable.
A generally loud bunch, the Iowa Western fans had fallen silent at Suplizio Field. Then, Ryan Merrill came up to bat.
Iowa Western had taken a 6-0 lead after 3 1/2 innings in the final game of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, and it looked as if the Reivers were going to coast to an easy victory over Miami Dade College.
The bottom of the fourth was a momentum shift for the Sharks, who scored five runs to cut Iowa Western’s lead to 6-5.
The Reivers needed an answer, but when it was still 6-5 in the seventh and the momentum still seemed to be favoring Miami Dade, Marc Rardin barked one word.
That single word was all Ryan Merrill heard from his coach, and that was all he needed. No words of encouragement from the coach, as he called Merrill up to pinch-hit for Quinn Carpenter.
“I was just hanging out, watching the game, and then I hear ‘Merrill!’ So, I’m like, ‘Yeah?’ And then I throw my helmet on, and I get up to bat,” Merrill said.
Rardin’s decision to go with Merrill was a relatively easy one. With a right-hander on the mound and another righty warming up in the Sharks’ bullpen, Rardin felt nothing but confidence in the freshman.
“I knew that I could probably leave him in the game for a couple innings since they didn’t have a left-hander warming up,” Rardin said. “I just thought he matched up well.”
Despite only one hit in his previous six at-bats in the tournament, Merrill remained calm.
“I felt good because I was barreling up balls,” he said. “All of my outs were technically good outs, so I was happy with my swing, and I was confident.”
All Merrill wanted to do was get on base, so when he got an 0-1 fastball he liked, he swung.
“He threw it hard enough, so you don’t have to try and swing out of your shoes,” Merrill said. “You just put the barrel on the ball, and the ball is going to go far.”
The ball bounced up the middle for a two-run single and bounced the momentum right back to Iowa Western, igniting a five-run seventh inning.
“The game is all about momentum until the final score, and that was momentum right there,” Rardin said. “He’s been there all year for us. Ryan has been special for us all year.”
Merrill’s pinch-hit single wasn’t the only play he made.
In the ninth inning, Merrill was up with two runners on base and blasted a home run over the right-field wall.
“It was great. Those balls that I went 1 for 6, those hard outs, I finally got one that I just got up into the Colorado air and just let it take it,” he said.
It was the perfect way for Merrill to end his stay in Grand Junction.
“I’m speechless,” Merrill said with a grin. “We just made history, and I can’t even say anything about it.”