CLEAR LAKE – Julia Merfeld is a hard player to strike out. The Clear Lake junior is now in her fourth full season as a member of the Lions’ softball team and has struck out a total of 12 times in her career.
She has led the Lions in hitting each of the past two seasons, with batting averages of .461 and .425, and leads the team this year, with a mark of .545.
Merfeld actually began as a right-handed hitter, but switched over to the left side of the plate once her coach decided that she would make a good “slap hitter.”
Once she became a varsity player, Merfeld said, the coach told her that she had a varsity glove, but wasn’t quite there offensively. Following the switch, Mefeld has been the Lions most consistent hitter.
“Switching from right to left was pretty hard,” Merfeld said. “Once you get the hang of it, slapping is way more beneficial for the team than I was right-handed.”
Merfeld’s biggest asset is her speed. As the lead-off hitter and the shortstop, she shows an impressive ability to advance on the bases, and also get to balls that a lesser-skilled shortstop would be unable to reach. Those skills serve her well in her unique role on the team.
“You definitely have to be quick,” Merfeld said. “Recently, I’ve been working on placing the ball. You also need good hand-eye coordination, because you kind of just throw your hands.”
As she has worked at her craft over the past few seasons, Merfeld became an on-base machine. This season, she has an on-base percentage of .565. Last season, her OBP was .460; her freshman year, she was at .488.
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In 2019, she has not struck out at all. Though it has been awhile, Merfeld knows that she dislikes the feeling that comes with the occasional whiff, saying that it feels “awful.”
Merfeld has a unique approach at the plate. When she stands in the box, once a pitch is delivered, she runs forward in the box, toward the pitcher. It puts a speedy player in a good position to make it to first base.
After she makes contact, she is already most of the way down the first base line by the time a fielder gets to the ball. She learned the technique from one of the Lions’ assistant coaches, who also was a slap hitter.
“You stick your right foot back, and then you just sprint at the pitch,” Merfeld said. “Then, you already have a head-start to first. It’s putting the ball where they aren’t at that point, or being quicker than their throw.”
Merfeld doesn’t have much power, and has never hit a home run in her career. For players that don’t send the ball far, Merfeld says that the coaches will most likely ask them to switch to being a lefty hitter.
“If you’re struggling on the right side, they might just move you over,” Merfeld said. “You can lay a bunt down, which is more helpful.”
Due to her high OBP, coach Austin Peterson uses Merfeld at the very top of his lineup, and praises her tough, gritty style of play at shortstop.
“She’s a solid leadoff hitter,” Peterson said. “She works her butt off in the field defensively, too. Her uniform is always dirty. She wants to win, and wants to work hard at it. She sets the tone, and gets on base. She comes ready to play.”