Braves march to district title game

GLADSTONE – The Gladstone Braves reaffirmed their juggernaut status Tuesday night in the Division 3 district opener, shutting out the Manistique Emeralds 10-0 and then crushing the Pickford Pirates 18-0 in three innings.

Christine Sharon earned the win over the Pirates, completing a no-hitter. Only one runner reached base on a walk, and Sharon finished with three strikeouts.

“We knew that they had a great program and it was going to be tough to play ball against them,” said Pickford coach Dennis Mesnard. “Their pitching was fantastic. My girls aren’t used to seeing anyone throw that fast.”

Gladstone held a 3-0 lead until they exploded in the top of the third for 15 runs. Lexi Hongisto began the scoring onslaught for the Braves with a two-RBI double. She would have two hits in the half inning and the Braves would receive some help from the Pirates, who made some costly errors with wild pitches and mishandled balls to keep the bases loaded for an inning that seemed to last forever.

“They did a great job defensively, and they hit the ball when they needed to,” said Braves coach Gerry Smith. “I’m happy with where we are sitting right now.”

Sharon had a single and a triple and Hongisto added a single to her excellent day of hitting. Grace Zimmerman and Sadie Strasser also had two singles apiece.

In game one, The Braves were clinging to a 1-0 lead over Manistique until the top of the fourth. They put up nine runs there, highlighted by a two-run home run by Hongisto that helped give Gladstone a 10-0 advantage.

“That was my best one, I think,” Hongisto said in regards to her homer, which was her sixth of the year. “I’ve been kind of in a hitting slump lately, and it felt good to get back on it today. I’m happy with where we’re at, we’re all working really hard.”

Smith added that the top five in his lineup have been coming along well, and now that Morgan Kowalski is getting comfortable in the six spot, their hitting can be very dangerous at times.

“That’s an awesome top six,” he said.

He also said that Pickford’s program has improved by leaps and bounds since just four years ago, and Mesnard has brought them a long way. But being a smaller school, they tend to face a lot of D-4 schools while the Braves are more accustomed to their level of competition.

“They are kind of in awe when they see this type of pitching,” he concluded.

Pickford wrapped up their season with an 11-7 record.

With the wins, Gladstone (25-1) advances to play in the championship game at noon on Saturday. They will take on the winner of Negaunee and Houghton, which will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday.