Luck a key factor in Braves’ title

In the wake of the Gladstone Braves third Division 3 softball state title, a lot of teams woke up Sunday morning and probably thought, ‘what if’. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Winning a state title involves a few ingredients. We’ll start with skill, and the Braves had plenty of that.

There was ace pitcher Tinner Sharon, who didn’t lose on the mound all season and only once gave up more than one run. She was as dominant as they come.

There was first baseman Jess Beaudry and shortstop Lexi Hongisto providing power at the plate in heavy doses and making excellent plays in the field.

There was sophomore catcher Morgan Kowalski blocking the plate like a senior, rarely letting balls get past her and throwing out baserunners with her deceptively accurate arm.

There was brilliant baserunning from Sadie Strasser and Sharon, having the vision and awareness to know when to draw out the play for an extra base.

There also needs to be chemistry. The Braves had that too, in spades.

I covered the Braves throughout their tournament run. There was never any complaining, and I mean none whatsoever. There was trust between players and between players and coaches. When Sharon was hurt, the coaching staff believed in her ability to continue the game. Additionally, the Braves don’t make multiple double plays in this tournament unless there is trust and confidence in their teammates to do their job. They frequently picked each other up and built each other up and rallied themselves.

There’s support, and wow did this team have that.

There was a sea of purple everywhere they went. Whether it was their home field, Traverse City (twice) or East Lansing, the purple section always came in greater force than the opposition.

There was motivation and determination and this was perhaps the deciding ingredient. The state final was a year in the making after Unionville-Sebewaing dealt Gladstone its worst defeat in likely a decade in 2013’s state quarterfinal. That 7-0 loss in which the Braves were no-hit stayed fresh in the mind’s of many of the players all season, it created that hunger and driving force that all champions have. Sometimes you have to take the pain of a hard loss to achieve the ultimate high of a state championship, and it makes it all the better when it finally happens.

But there’s one more ingredient that might be hard for some to admit – luck.

Yes, there is luck involved in every championship journey regardless of sport, division or age group or level.

Softball, like baseball as they say, is a game of inches. A twinge here or there, a gust of wind that blows a ball just foul, a pitch that was just inside, a crucial injury, and just plain old happenstance. These are the kinds of things that can decide games, or at least contribute sometimes, and the Braves were no exception to this beneficial contributor.

Take Gladstone’s district final against Negaunee for example. Remember that 10th inning? A 0-0 game, a Negaunee runner at third, two outs. That ball was hit hard to left, no one was going to get it. The ball happened to drop just foul, within a foot of the line.

What if?

Coloma is certainly thinking ‘what if’ as well. We will all remember the back-to-back home runs the Comets had in the bottom of the seventh of that game. It tied the score at 4-4. Those homers came with two outs and gave a defeated team life. We will all remember then, Sharon’s effort in the eighth inning, her aggressive baserunning that eventually won the game.

But rewind that tape a little bit more, back in the top of the seventh, when Gladstone got it’s fourth run due to a balk by pitcher Emily Najacht. If that doesn’t happen, Gladstone doesn’t win.

In the state title game, Gladstone was tasked with facing a pitcher that had their number in Erica Treiber. But it just so happened, that Treiber was dealing with dead arm issues, and according to USA coach Steve Bohn could only pitch 3-4 innings. Treiber didn’t allow a hit in the three innings she did pitch. She’s thrown 10 consecutive no-hit innings against the Braves. If Treiber was 100 percent and pitched the entire game, what happens then? What if?

Gladstone can look back on this wild ride with fond memories and a certain satisfaction that it’s their opponents that are saying ‘what if’ today and not them. The Braves had the skill, chemistry, support, motivation and yes, luck to make it happen.