Game of inches foils Eskymos

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Softball, like baseball, as the old adage says, is a game of inches. The Escanaba Eskymos were just a few off in Tuesday’s MHSAA Division 2 state quarterfinal and Saginaw Swan Valley capitalized. A couple errors, a couple hesitant moments, a few feet short here and there was all the Vikings needed to advance to Bailey Park in a 3-2 victory.

“The kids gave their best effort and that’s really all you can ask of them,” said Eskymos manager John LaMarch. “It is a game of inches and today a couple were just out of our reach and they capitalized.

“We’re proud of where we are and what we accomplished here,” he continued. “We don’t want to dwell on today’s loss. We want to celebrate what we’ve done all year and not focus on the outcome of today’s game.”

Summer was in the air on this partly sunny 84 degree day on the pristine field at Central Michigan University’s Margo Jonker Stadium. The Eskymos just couldn’t get that extra push.

Still, this was a far cry from 2012’s 12-1 loss in this same game against this same Vikings team. The Eskymos were better at just about every position and executed very well for most of the game.

Shortstop Callie Heller and outfielder Nicole Juhl each had some nice grabs on fly balls. Codi Jenshak in her final game as an Eskymo continued her torrid hitting pace, and Jaymie Frappier was solid as can be on the mound against a very good hitting Vikings team.

It boiled down to a couple key plays.

Two Eskymos errors in the third inning led directly to a run. With one out, Swan Valley’s Morgan Stadler ripped her team’s first hit of the game. Then, designated player Ali Gosen hit a grounder that was bobbled at third base, enabling her to reach first. Sarah Addy followed with a single to load the bases with one out. Kelly Halvin then hit a grounder to third that was mishandled, allowing a run to score. The Eskymos avoided any further damage in the inning but the Vikings held a 1-0 lead.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Eskymos were charging. Leadoff batter Ashley Cook was hit hard by a pitch and Callie Heller reached base safely on an infield bunt, also advancing the runner. Then in a bizarre play, Syd Gafner launched a high fly ball. The umpire signaled infield fly, resulting in an automatic out for Gafner. However, the ball was dropped. Seeing a possible opportunity, Ashley Cook took off running for third, but the ball was picked up and Cook was thrown out, completing a double play despite the error.

“I don’t know if it was planned or not,” said Swan Valley manager Tom Kennelly. “I hate games,” he cracked.

It wasn’t a total loss for the Eskymos. Jenn Koish came up as a pinch hitter and hit a grounder out to shortstop. The ball was overthrown, Koish reached second safely and Heller came in to score from second base, tying the game at 1-1.

The momentum was short lived.

With two outs in the sixth inning, Vikings pitcher Courtney Reinhold, an all-state talent and Swan Valley’s clean-up hitter, ripped a single. Reegan Flattery followed with a double. It was shortstop Jenna Stevenson that made the play of the game. It was a well-hit ball that rolled through to the outfield, allowing two runs to score; sweet redemption for Stevenson after her throwing error.

“I felt good for my shortstop,” said Kennelly. “She’s the one who gave up the run and threw it over to first, and then she gets the 2-run single that ends up winning it for us.”

Codi Jenshak was first up to bat for the Eskymos in the bottom of the sixth and launched a long fly ball to the centerfield fence that dropped. Jenshak turned on the jets and made a trip around the bases for an inside-the-park homer. The Eskymos got one more runner on base, but couldn’t manage another run.

A 1-2-3 inning by Eskymos pitcher Jaymie Frappier gave hope, but the bottom of the seventh was uneventful. Reinhold tore through the Eskymos in a 1-2-3 inning and that was that.

Reinhold lived up to her billing. In earning the victory, she allowed five hits, no walks and struck out three. Frappier gave up two earned runs on seven hits, walked none and struck out one.

Last year, the Eskymos committed five errors. This year, it was two and it was Swan Valley that had some sloppy moments, committing five errors. But the Eskymos couldn’t capitalize but on one of them.

“I don’t think we brought our A-game,” said Kennelly. “But give Escanaba credit. Last year it was 12-1. They came in and kept their composure. Their sophomore pitcher didn’t strike anyone out, but they picked the ball up pretty good. I’m impressed with them. They really came and battled.”

Escanaba will lose major contributors’ Codi Jenshak and Emily Bogaudo to graduation but could return nine players from this team. Jenshak leaves after having one of the greatest single seasons in Eskymo softball history. She batted a school record .508 this season and also set school records in home runs, walks in a season and walks in a career. She was 2-for-3 Tuesday.

“She’s just a tremendous ball player,” said LaMarch. “Codi loves the sport, she’s a great team player and stepping aside as a pitcher on a team that came here last year for a sophomore pitcher says a lot about her character. I have the utmost respect for her.”