Braves put stranglehold on rivalry, sweep Esky

GLADSTONE – Sadie Strasser had never lost to Escanaba on the softball diamond. She was determined not to let it happen in the Gladstone Braves’ home and season finale.

Strasser rippped an RBI double in the bottom of the fifth to get Gladstone on the board and Lexi Hongisto batted in the winning run as the Braves ralied past Esky 2-1 in the nightcap of a doubleheader between the rivals, Tuesday night. Gladstone won the opener 6-0.

In the nightcap, Escanaba struck early when Michelle LaFave ripped an RBI double to score Becca Piron, who was aided by an error in the top of the first. That lead nearly held up under strong pitching from jayvee call-up Katie Ross, who was impressive on the mound.

Gladstone bided its time until the fifth when two consecutive Escanaba errors set the table for Strasser, who earlier in the game launched a ball to deep right for a triple.

“We were nervous, but we always pull through,” said Strasser. “We support each other a lot, it’s what we’re known for. We pulled it out and it was good.”

Before the clutch inning from the Braves, Ross was solid. She allowed four hits and one walk while striking out six.

“Katie did a great job, she did everything we asked of her and answered the bell when we needed her,” said Escanaba manager John LaMarch. “I have to give her a lot of credit for that. She did double duty today and we really appreciate what she did for us. We’re happy with where she’s at.”

Ross had 1-2-3 innings in the third and sixth and struck out three Braves in the first.

“We hadn’t seen this pitcher but she had some good speed and got us on a few strikeouts,” said Braves manager Ashley Hughes. “But the second, third time around the girls timing was much better and they hit the ball when they needed to.”

Mikayla Depuydt was just as strong on the mound in earning the victory. She allowed five hits, none after the third inning, walked two and struck out two. Earlier in the day, Christine Sharon was also dominant in pitching a four-hitter shutout.

Sam Connor took the loss in the opener, allowing six hits and two walks with two strikeouts.

The Braves scored all six of their runs in the fourth inning and coasted the rest of the way in the opener.

“Both of the girls today made me very proud. It was a different outing. We jumped ahead in the fourth inning of the first game and got some run support for Teener, and game two the girls rallied to get behind Mikayla, and she had a really effective game today too,” said Hughes. “She got ahead of the count most of the time, which helps us out defensively as well. It was a nice job by both girls tonight.”

The Braves (21-2) helped Dupuydt with a couple nice grabs in the outfield and infield, particularly Jess Beaudry’s dive and roll catch on a fly ball from Anna Burch.

“We had our defense tested a little over the weekend in our tourney downstate and the same holds true with Escanaba,” said Hughes. “We had a lot of hits out there but I think our defense played very well and made the plays they needed to, to keep girls off base.”

Strasser and Hongisto were each 2-for-3 for Gladstone, each with an RBI.

“It’s kind of been our Achillies heel,” LaMarch said of the errors in the fifth. “The kids are playing hard, lady luck just isn’t shining on us right now. Sometimes you make your own luck. I don’t want to say they’re lucky or anything though, Gladstone played awesome. We’re close.”

Strasser was thrilled after the game, one of a handful of Gladstone Braves who haven’t lost to the Eskymos during their varsity careers.

“It’s huge,” she said. “It’s my last game of the year and it was great. It feels amazing.”

Win or lose, LaMarch said playing against the perinnnally successful Braves makes his team better.

“I think it does,” he said. “I think some of it is skewed by the rivalry. We could both be 10-10 and it would be the same kind of pressure,” he said. “They’re a really good team and I expect them to have a great run in the postseason. I wish them the best.”

Hughes said the possibility exists for make-up games to be scheduled before district play begins, though nothing is currently on tap. She also paid her respects to the tenacious Eskymos (16-12).

“It’s a longtime rivalry against Esky and it will always be there,” she said. “It helps get them pumped up for these situations too, making sure they focus when they need to.

“The girls have just been rallying around each other this season. They’re a great group of girls and they came through once again.”