116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS – Mount Mercy’s Jayna Witzany isn’t accustomed to morning games.
Luckily, she lives two minutes from the Mustangs’ softball diamond, allowing for a less early wake-up call Thursday and providing a little extra time before reporting for routine pregame warmups by 7:30.
“We start two hours before every game just like the regular season, so it’s a darn good thing we live so close,” Witzany said with a laugh. “I can get here real quick.”
Witzany recorded her ninth strikeout to close a complete-game shutout and Jade Sharp delivered a key RBI single, powering fourth-seeded Mount Mercy over No. 5 Benedictine (Kan.) College, 2-0, in the first round of the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament at Busse Field at Plaster Athletic Complex.
“The first game is always the hardest one,” Mustangs Coach Larry Yoder said. “We’ve been looking forward to it all year long. It finally gets here and you can tell we were a little bit tight and tense at the beginning. Once we settled in we were fine.”
Witzany was in command from the start. She stifled the Ravens, allowing just two base hits and three total baserunners. None of them advanced beyond first base. The first-team all-conference right-hander improved to 18-5 this season.
“She did a terrific job,” Yoder said. “She throws hard. She’s great at locating, so she changes locations and can change speeds to keep hitters off balance.”
The proper mental approach is important to the junior from Cottage Grove, Minn. She subscribes to the simple premise of one pitch at a time emphasized by pitching coach John Olachnovitch. Witzany knew she was in control from the start.
“First pitch of the game,” Witzany said. “Fake it until you make it. I have to. Even if I had a really bad warmup, I go in saying this is going to be a strike and this girl isn’t going to get on. It works. If I believe if I can do it then it can happen.”
Solid defense took care of the other 12 outs, including Payton Bruner’s catch on a line drive and a few nice plays by outfielders in a strong wind.
“They are the source of my confidence,” Witzany said. “I know if I miss a pitch or they happen to get a good hit that my defense has got my back.”
The Mustangs (30-13) broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth. Sam Lee started things with an infield single, dropping a ball between the third baseman and shortstop. She advanced to second on Emily Oler’s fielder’s choice, sliding in safely when the third baseman hesitated on the throw.
Sharp stepped to the plate. She overcame the nerves that accompanied her first at bat. More relaxed with two on and one out, she smacked a liner to right field to score Lee and move Oler to third. Oler scored on a Jaicee Lyons groundout.
“She threw me that outside pitch,” Sharp said. “It’s my favorite pitch, so I went for it. Just bat to ball, quick hands. It felt good.”
Sharp said she embraces challenging situations. She wants to be able to help her team in those moments.
“I like the pressure,” Sharp said. “A lot of people don’t but it feels so good when you get that big hit or make that big play.”
Yoder said Sharp has a knack for clutch hitting. She came up at the perfect time.
“Jade always comes through,” Yoder said. “She’s the one we want up there when the pressure is on. It’s awesome.”
Mount Mercy advanced to the semifinals, playing No. 8 William Penn at noon Friday. William Penn (20-28) knocked off top-seeded Grand View, 4-1, Thursday afternoon.
“Our defense is playing well and we need to keep that up,” Sharp said. “As for hitting, we have to adjust to the pitchers, so we can score. Relax, have fun with the game and hit the ball.”