Esky All-Stars cruise to district title

GLADSTONE – Throughout the District 10 Junior Girls Little League tournament, Escanaba had been playing at a level that was head and shoulders above the rest of the field. That didn’t change Sunday at Howes Field, in the district title game.

Escanaba got out of the gates quickly and never looked back, capturing the district title with a 17-3 triumph over Gladstone in a five-inning contest.

With the victory, Escanaba will host a sectional tournament on Saturday against the winner of the Copper Country district.

“This is a great group of girls,” Escanaba head coach Vance Hiney said. “I can’t say enough about them. They all come together and they’re all good friends. They have fun at practice and they practice hard and I think that’s what helped.”

The win was another showcasing of how dominant Escanaba has been in the tournament, thus far. They opened on Friday with a 7-0 win over Gladstone and then went on to defeat Kingsford 14-0, on Saturday.

“We practiced hard and we practiced a lot, and we had fun. I think when you’re having fun, you’re playing a lot better,” Hiney said.

Playing as the away team, Escanaba poured in four runs for an early lead. Taylor Gauthier, Hannah Edington, Cassie Wisler, and Heather Bergstrom, each recorded RBI’s in the inning.

“I think I like batting first,” Hiney said laughing, “It gets the girls going, it gets them ready, it gets the jitters out a little bit, and then we take it to them.”

Gladstone would score a run in the bottom half of the first, after Mykenzie Monkevich’s groundout allowed Kaitlyn Hardwick to score to make it 4-1.

In an attempt to kill Escanaba’s momentum, Gladstone tried three different pitchers-Amber Lenards, Jenna Steinhoff, and Taylor Hunter-while sometimes using multiple pitchers in the same inning. Still, Gladstone could not keep up with the Escanaba bats.

Escanaba tallied 17 hits and scored two, four, three, and four runs, in the following innings.

“Every pitcher they put in, our girls adjusted to,” Hiney said. “I was very impressed. Everybody on our team was contributing.”

Claire McInerny, Edington, and Gauthier each paced Escanaba with three hits, each. But it was Edington who led the team in the RBI department, collecting five.

Hiney in part, credited the offensive outburst to his team receiving some help from another coach within the Escanaba baseball program: varsity softball assistant Bruce Heller.

“I gotta give a special thanks to Bruce Heller,” Hiney said. “He comes in and helps us with our batting. I can’t say enough about the guy. We had him come over today and he straightened us out. He made some tweaks a little bit and the girls came in with confidence, because he’s very good at building the confidence in them, and they came out and pounded the ball; it was great.”

On the mound, Edington collected the victory for Escanaba after pitching all five innings. She allowed three runs-two of them earned-on eight hits and no walks, while striking out two batters.

Gladstone finished the game with eight hits and three errors. In spite of the score, the Gladstone All-Stars had scoring opportunities of their own to make it a close game, but stranded eight runners on base. The biggest missed chance came in the third inning, when Gladstone managed to load the bases, but didn’t score.

“They’re a good team,” Gladstone head coach Duane Hardwick said of Escanaba. “We tried to do some creative pitching to work around the batters and stuff, but it didn’t work. We had our opportunities, but that’s about it.

“They’re well-coached and a very disciplined team. We knew we would have to play errorless free ball to beat them and make a game out of it.”

Escanaba now awaits a short sectional tournament this weekend.

“I’m really happy that we’re still here,” Hiney said. “We’re going to try to take that to them and see if we can get out of here and go downstate.”