Prep softball: Kowalski returns to help Braves sweep season series

GLADSTONE – Tuesday night’s doubleheader between the Gladstone Braves and Escanaba Eskymos would be the final regular season meeting for the seniors, and Gladstone made sure they went out swinging. In what would have been a pair of low-scoring affairs, the Braves (23-1) had one big inning in each game that pushed them to the sweep, earning 6-4 and 4-3 victories.

“We played well, we just made a few too many mistakes at crucial times,” said Eskymos coach John LaMarch. “They got three of their four runs in game two, and five of their six runs in one inning in game one. The big inning killed us, and against a good team like Gladstone, they’re usually going to get you when that happens.”

The recipe was basically the same in both games; the Eskymos held the early lead in both contests, but the Braves found a way to surge ahead.

Escanaba (12-7) held a 3-0 advantage heading into the bottom of the third inning of game one. The Braves came out with back-to-back base hits, and then Sadie Strasser belted an RBI double that finally put Gladstone on the board.

Lexi Hongisto earned a walk to load the bases when Jessie Beaudry hit a sac-fly to score another run and make it a 3-2 ball game. Alison Austin delivered the knockout blow with the second of two hard hit RBI singles that gave Gladstone a 5-3 lead.

The Braves’ defense stepped up to deliver a 1-2-3 inning, and then senior Jordan Kowalski, in her first action in nearly two weeks, smashed a solo home run to open up the bottom of the fourth.

“It felt amazing,” Kowalski said. “I’ve been out for a while with a shoulder injury, and just coming back to hit it like that was great. We’ve been working really hard in practice, and it’s paying off. Obviously, there are always things to work on, but I feel good about where we’re at.”

Escanaba’s Rebecca Piron knocked in a run on a base hit in the sixth, but that was all the Eskymos could muster up.

In game two, Escanaba held a 2-0 lead until the fourth inning. The bases were loaded on a walk of Kowalski, and then things fell apart for the Eskymos again. Lauren Parrett knocked in two runs with a base hit to tie the game, and Christine Sharon followed it up with a line drive RBI single that pushed the Braves ahead 3-2.

The damage wasn’t too severe, as Sydney Gafner made the defensive play of the game to put an end to the bleeding. There was a fly ball hit deep to the outfield, but she caught it and threw an absolute dart to home plate, which made it in plenty of time to tag the runner and get the third out.

Michelle LaFave nearly had a two-run home run in the third inning, but it bounced up into the air after hitting the yellow padding on the fence and spun back into play.

“That’s kind of the way it goes for us,” LaMarch added. “We were thinking it was out of here, it comes back in, and we don’t score the run. And we went on to lose by one. No excuses, it’s just maybe a little karma down the road for the Eskymos.”

Austin hit an RBI double to the fence in the fifth inning that gave Gladstone its insurance run.

Although they came away with the sweep, Braves coach Gerry Smith saw too many defensive misques from his club.

“We hit the ball when we needed to, but we made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “We made a lot of two-out mistakes that can’t be made in the future. One mistake in the districts and it’s over.”

He added that it was a great day for the seniors, and they all played well.

Eskymos catcher Emily Bogaudo said that they approached the Braves differently this time around, and it helped them keep the ball games close.

“I think our attitude was a lot better this game,” she said. “We decided to play as if it was any other team instead of a rivalry game.”

She added that she is very confident with her team’s ability to win the district this year.

Escanaba hosts Marquette Thursday, while Gladstone is scheduled to be idle until district play.