Prep softball: Braves rack up 11th straight championship

TRAVERSE CITY — Fish swim, birds fly and Gladstone softball wins regional championships. This continued to hold true on Saturday, with the Gladstone Lady Braves topping Tawas Area 4-1 on Saturday in the division three regionals held at Traverse City St. Francis; which was good for the program’s 11th straight regional championship.

“It feels good, each one is different and unique in itself,” Gladstone head coach Gerry Smith said of continuing the streak of titles.

Gladstone wasted no time to get rolling in the championship game, as lead-off batter Christine Sharon roped the first pitch of the contest over the Tawas rightfielders’ head for a triple.

Gladstone was slowed down momentarily however, as Sadie Strasser’s suicide squeeze play was unsuccessful, after an alert play by the Tawas catcher. The Tawas catcher grabbed the bunted ball in front of the plate and dove back to the plate to tag Sharon out at home before she could score.

The misstep was short lived though, as later in the inning, Mikalya Depuydt hit a double that drove in Strasser all the way from first base, giving Gladstone a 1-0 lead.

Tawas managed to score its lone run in the bottom of the first, getting a two out rally started by Western Michigan commit Ivy Schaaf who walked to reach base.

Schaaf raced to third after the next batter doubled, and later came in to score on a passed ball to make it 1-1.

Alison Austin got a single in the second inning, and Jordan Kowalski had a hit in the third, but Gladstone wasn’t able to score a run in either inning, though Austin settled down in the pitcher’s circle, giving up just one hit in those two innings.

Aside from a rough patch in the first inning, Austin was mostly dominant in the win, giving up just four hits while striking out four and walking three.

“She did a good job keeping the ball low,” Smith said of Austin. “She gives up a few ground balls but very few go up and out. She’s very stingy, she’s done a super job this year.”

Jessica Beaudry started off the fourth with a single, with Gladstone eventually loading the bases with one out and Beaudry on third, Austin got to second after reaching on a fielder’s choice and Grace Zimmerman stood on first after an infield hit.

Lauren Parrett followed Zimmerman, hitting a fly ball to the center-fielder, deep enough for a sacrifice fly that made it 2-1.

In the fifth inning, Strasser led off by reaching on an error and got to third base on a Lexi Hongisto double. Jordan Kowalski followed next, hitting the team’s second sacrifice fly in as many innings to make it 3-1.

Gladstone tacked on its final run in the top of the sixth, getting the rally started with a lead-off single by Morgan Kowalski.

Austin followed with a sac-bunt that got Kowalski to second and Zimmerman roped a single to right-field to put runners at first and third with one out.

Parrett followed by hitting a ground ball to second base, and though she was out at first base she successfully brought home Kowalski to make it 4-1.

“There was good pitching on both sides, hits were at a premium,” Smith said. “We had some good timely hits in the game. We had some hits at the right time and it just worked out for us.”

Gladstone worked around a Tawas walk in the sixth inning, to take a 4-1 lead into the seventh.

In the top of the seventh, Jordan Kowalski and Morgan Kowalski both singled, but Gladstone couldn’t extend its lead any further.

Austin got the first two Tawas batters in the bottom of the seventh to fly out, before giving up a single to Serina Sciotti.

The next Tawas batter hit a groundball to Depuydt at second base, who easily fired to first base to finish off the game.

“They’re a very well coached team,” Tawas head coach Rick Collins said of Gladstone, who ended Tawas’ season for the fourth straights season. “We didn’t give it to them, they earned it.”

Gladstone was led offensively by Morgan Kowalski, Jordan Kowalski and Grace Zimmerman who all had two hits apiece with Jordan Kowalski adding one RBI. Sharon had a triple, Depuydt had a double and an RBI, Hongisto had a double, with Austin and Beaudry both adding singles. Parrett had two RBI.

Gladstone topped Boyne City 9-2 in the morning’s semifinal contest, with Tawas having topped host Traverse City St. Francis 11-1.

Gladstone (27-1) continues its season on Tuesday in the MHSAA quarterfinals, against Unionville-Sebewaing at Traverse City West.