Esky cruises past Gladstone

GLADSTONE – Gary Salo was running late to the opening game of the Major Little League Softball District Tournament. He had a good reason for it.

“It’s been a long day, I spent most of it in Green Bay. My wife hasn’t been feeling too good,” he said.

Salo checked in on the drive over on the radio and liked what he heard. His Escanaba girls jumped out to an early lead behind strong pitching from his daughter Gabby Salo, timely hits and excellent baserunning.

“The girls knew I would be a little late, and this was the first time I’ve ever listened to one on the radio and I liked what I was hearing,” Escanaba’s manager Salo said.

Escanaba, sporting their traditional orange and black jerseys, but with chrome lettering, had a good start to the tournament with a 5-1 victory over rival Gladstone, which displayed sharp black, purple and white threads. They’ll advance to face Iron Mountain North at noon today while Gladstone drops down to an elimination game Sunday at 2 p.m against the loser of Norway and Kingsford.

The Esky All-Stars put their first four on base before an out was recorded, scoring two runs. Leadoff batter Jalin Olson reached on an error and Sam Soper followed with a single. Olson was able to score on the play on another Gladstone error. Maddy Block followed with a hit and Dakota Cloutier sent Soper home on an RBI single.

“We knew going in that we wanted to attack the ball, not take strikes and put the ball in play,” said Salo. “We had a couple kids hammer a couple good shots today for 12 year olds.”

One of those shots was an RBI triple to the centerfield wall, hit by Salo in the fifth inning with two outs. Salo had another RBI on a third inning single that scored Block, who displayed aggressive, no-fear base running all day.

“It feels really good,” Block said of winning a tough tournament opener. She said a lot of practice and hard work went into developing her baserunning instincts. She stole three bases in the victory.

Esky made just one mistake on the base paths when Olson tried to stretch a double into a triple. She was thrown out at third for the final out of the sixth inning, but not before Lehto scored from third.

“We were smart and aggressive, but I was probably a little dumb sending Jalin on the triple, but it worked out, bang-bang play,” said Salo. “We had a great umpiring crew and both guys were watching right away and I knew they were going to make the call that they saw, which was good.”

Along with Salo’s two hits and two RBIs, she didn’t allow Gladstone many opportunities, striking out nine, walking one and allowing just three hits.

“Gabby has done a great job,” said Salo. “This year, I’ve been off coaching a little bit so she went to a travel tournament without me. That was a good learning tool, to learn how to pitch without the people who are normally there.

“Today, she knew I would be a little late and she had a great idea. We came here and pitched a little last night just to ease her fears, and she was comfortable.”

Brittany Schwartz absorbed the loss for Gladstone, striking out nine, walked none, hit one batter and allowed eight hits.

Gladstone’s lone run came in the third. Madison Ahlgren hit a two-out single, Gladstone’s first hit of the game and Sydney Herioux followed with an RBI single to score Ahlgren. Gladstone had an opportunity for more when Natalie Hansen hit what initally looked like an RBI single, but Herioux ran into the Escanaba fielder trying to get to third and after crossing home plate, was called out.

Gladstone manager Rodney Schwartz vowed his team will clean a few things up and hopefully get another stab at Escanaba in this double-elimination tournament.

“If we don’t make the mistakes there in the first inning, giving up two runs, I think its a different ball game,” Schwartz said. “Our kids hit the ball pretty hard. We did have a couple strikouts watching, which shouldn’t happen, but give Esky credit, they made the plays on defense and we had too many errors.”

Both managers said they expect to face each other again.

“Absolutely,” said Salo. “Anytime you have Escanaba and Gladstone in a district, you’re going to see each other twice somewhere along the way. It’s always a battle, it’s two of the best teams in the state, no doubt about it.”

Schwartz said, “I think in my 5-6 years of coaching All-Stars, I told the kids this is probably the best team I’ve had so far, but they have to believe in themselves.

“We have some work to do. There’s a little bit of jitters, first game in the tournament, they are 11, 12 years old.”