Prep softball: Braves stymie Esky

ESCANABA – The Gladstone Braves lost a lot of three and four-year players to graduation last year, but perhaps surprisingly, 18 games into the season, the team hasn’t skipped a beat. The Braves (17-1) strong softball season continued Tuesday with a doubleheader sweep of rival Escanaba.

Pitchers’ Alison Austin and Christine Sharon were in control and Gladstone also got nice contributions in the field by Sadie Strasser and Grace Zimmermann to spoil the Eskymos home opener 4-1 and 6-2.

“it comes down to, they played better than we did today,” said Eskymos manager John LaMarch.

The Eskymos were stymied at the plate by solid pitching and excellent fielding. Sharon pitched the first game and struck out three, allowing one run. Austin took command in the nightcap and got most of her outs on grounders, but struck out four, allowing five hits and one walk.

“I have to give credit to the pitchers. They were both in control tonight and both did a super job in both ball games, holding Escanaba off-stride,” said Gladstone manager Gerry Smith. “Esky didn’t really look that bad for not playing many games. They looked good.”

In the nightcap, Gladstone broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning when Jess Beaudry escaped a pickle situation and made it to third base. Austin then grounded out for the RBI.

Escanaba answered in the bottom of the inning when pitcher Codi Jenshak drew a leadoff walk. A flyout moved her to second and she scored from there on a base single from Brianna Belanger to make it 1-1.

Gladstone regrouped and came out swinging in the top of the fifth, where they scored three more runs. Mikayla Depuydt smacked a leadoff double and two outs later, Sadie Strasser and Lexi Hongisto hit back-to-back doubles right down the middle to score two runs. Beaudry followed with an RBI single.

“We hit the ball at the right time and that’s what you have to have, those clutch hits,” said Smith. “You can have 10 hits and not score a run, but our hitting came in at precisely the right time today.”

Strasser had the game-winning hit in both games and also made a beautiful catch in centerfield.

“I’ve been working a lot and it’s paying off,” said a beaming Strasser after the game. “It feels great!”

Grace Zimmermann also made a nice running grab down the right foul line as part of a double-play to end the fourth inning.

“The one catch Sadie made in right center, she did a super job circling in on that one,” said Smith.

The Eskymos tacked on one more run in the sixth on a base hit from Belanger. Jenshak then scored on an error on the same play.

The Eskymos however, had 10 errors throughout the two games.

“We practice hard at that,” said LaMarch. “Momentum is kind of a funny thing. If you have it, it’s great and if you’re fighting to get it, it’s pretty elusive. We just couldn’t get any serious momentum going and that’s kind of the story of the games.

“We’re capable of playing better and I’m sure they may think that they can play better too.”

Jenshak took the loss for Escanaba as she struck out three and allowed seven hits. She was relieved by Jaymie Frappier who pitched the final two innings, including a 1-2-3 sixth.

Gladstone scored twice in the seventh, one was unearned as Alexis St. Cyr scored on a passed ball. Beaudry then batted Hongisto home, completing a 3-4 game with two RBIs. Morgan Kowalski also had two hits for Gladstone, as she continues to fill in for her sister Jordan, who is out with a shoulder injury.

Belanger had a 2-3 game for Esky with two RBIs.

In the opener, Gladstone broke open a 1-1 game in the sixth inning when Strasser’s double scored Zimmermann. The Braves then added two more runs in the seventh on a suicide bunt by Beaudry and a sacrifice fly by Austin.

All LaMarch could do was tip his hat to the Braves.

“Their pitchers are very good and you have to give them a lot of credit. They’re a very good team; well coached, well prepared and they played better than us today,” he said.

Escanaba (5-4) hosts Pulaski, Wis. Thursday while Gladstone resumes Friday at Sault Ste. Marie.