Little League Minor State Semifinal: Jackson Northwest stays stingy, stifles Hillman 7-1

ESCANABA – Jackson Northwest stayed stingy and overpowered its opponent Wednesday at Lemerand Park to gain a berth in today’s Minor League (age 9-10) state championship game.

Jackson advanced with a 7-1 triumph over Hillman.

Hillman’s Abby Funk tied the score at 1 on Mckenna Grulke’s bunt in the third frame.

Jackson then regained the lead in its half of the third, scoring twice by taking advantage of two errors and a walk for a 3-1 lead.

Jackson Northwest, fueled by back-to-back RBI singles to center from Madison Neitzke and Bree Burman, added three runs for a 6-1 cushion in the fourth.

“When you get your bats going, it tends to put pressure on the other team,” said Jackson manager Bambi Cooper. “We try to put the ball in play and make things happen on the bases.”

Jackson, taking advantage of two errors and a walk, finished the scoring in the fifth.

Burman, who opened the scoring on a wild pitch in the first, had two of Jackson’s five hits.

Winning pitcher Sierra Weller tossed a two-hitter, struck out nine and walked three.

“We knew we were going to go with Sierra and she was able to get into a rhythm,” said Cooper. “When she does that, she’s hard to hit. We also made plays when we needed to, which helped us get a cushion to work with. We feel we have as good pitching as anybody. We have a three-pitcher rotation, although we have other girls who can also throw.”

Bailey Schook absorbed the loss, strking out nine and walking two.

“A couple errors hurt us in the third inning,” said Hillman manager Rich Price. “Although, we’re very proud of our girls. This is the first time Hillman softball has been to the state tournament. Finishing in the top four in the state, there’s nothing wrong with that. I expect these girls to have a great future in softball.”

At one point there was some doubt whether Jackson Northwest would be able to make the trip north.

“We nearly didn’t have enough girls to come up here,” said Cooper. “Not enough girls tried out for the team. But the girls decided they wanted to go after it, and we were able to come up with enough.”

And the Jackson area squad made quite an impression on Price.

“They’re a very good ball team,” he said. “They take advantage of errors, and that’s what it’s all about.”

The teams combined for eight errors, including seven by Hillman.

Jackson will face off against Grandville today at 2 p.m. at Lemerand Park’s Center Field.