For the second time three seasons, Ozark has received a boost at second base with the arrival of a transfer.
Since moving from San Jose, California, to Ozark over the summer, sophomore Courtney Merrell has assumed the Lady Tigers’ starting job at second and hit out of the two-hole. Two years ago, Athena Andrews transferred from Bettendorf, Iowa to Ozark and batted .377 as a junior.
Merrell has been steady since the outset of the season and delivered a game-winning RBI-single in the Lady Tigers’ 3-2 semifinal win over Marquette at the Ozark’s Fall Festival this past weekend.
“She is still trying to get to know the girls. But you can tell she is really fitting in,” coach Jimmy Nimmo said. “She’s in a perfect spot for her at second base and at the No. 2 position in our order. Not getting to have (three-year starter) Emily Schmucker this year, we had a void on the infield and on the offensive side, too. Courtney has filled that nicely.”
“When she first got here, I asked her, 'Why Ozark and why would you want to move from California to here?’” center fielder Abby Ford said. “We laughed about that. She seems to really be enjoying it here. She has been a huge addition. The chemistry is there with her and she makes amazing plays I haven’t seen anyone make.”
Merrell reports she is thrilled with her new surroundings.
“School is amazing here, a lot better than where I was,” she said. “I’m so thankful that I get to be here.”
Merrell’s family had only visited the Ozarks once prior to their move.
“My Dad's best friend is from here and my Mom has a cousin who lives in Springfield,” Courtney said. “We wanted out of California, so this felt like the right place. We bought a house sight unseen.”
At-bat, Merrell is seeing plenty of fast balls. She is in an ideal position hitting in between senior stars Ford and Kenna Mayfield.
“Pitchers tend to throw me outside to try to get to Abby when she's running,” Merrell said. “When it's a faster pitcher, it's easy for me to go to the opposite field.”
Merrell added Ford and Mayfield also helped her deal with the pressure of hitting with the game on the line against Marquette. With two outs and the teams tied at 2-all, Ford singled and reached second base on a passed ball to set the stage for Merrell’s heroics.
Merrell lined a single to center field to send Ozark to the championship game.
“I was really stressed out,” Merrell said. “But when the other team’s coach called timeout, Abby and Kenna walked to me and calmed me down and told me they believed in me. That really helped.”