AKRON, Ohio – They rallied against St. Claire in the state tournament, they rallied against Des Moines, Iowa Monday, and Tuesday in the U.S. Central Regional semifinal, the Escanaba Junior (14U) girls rallied once again past LeGrange, Ill. 3-2 to advance to the championship game, Thursday.
“This was a good game to win,” said Esky manager Vance Hiney. “We’re used to getting some runs, and we could have panicked, but we held them down and got the win.”
Escanaba is now one victory away from a World Series berth in Kirkland, Wash.
The Esky girls faced a good amount of adversity before getting the victory, Tuesday. Pitcher Hannah Edington was hit by a fastball on her wrist in the bottom of the fourth inning. She collapsed at the plate, but shook it off. She later drew a walk and continued to pitch the rest of the game, being that her pitching hand wasn’t the one that was hit, though she grimaced at times the rest of the way.
“It’s all swelled up,” said Hiney of the deep bruise on Edington’s wrist. “But she’s tough. A couple tiems we had someone check her out to make sure it wasn’t broken. It’s a real good bruise, but she’s going to pitch (Thursday.) She wants to, she says she’s been waiting for this opportunity.”
Edington had two strikeouts in earning the victory, but Illinois got a couple runs in the top of the fourth to take a 2-0 lead. From there, the Esky defense really buckled down and the bats got some timely hits.
In the bottom of the fourth, Mallary Hiney and Taylor Gauthier each singled and Edington was hit by a pitch to load the bases. With Hiney at third, a passed ball went behind the catcher.
“The backstop was right behind the umpire’s butt. It’s one of the shortest backstops I’ve seen,” said manager Hiney. Still, seeing an opportunity, Hiney bolted from third. The Illinois catcher had the ball and reached out for the tag, but Hiney slid, avoiding it to put Esky on the board, making it a 2-1 game.
“It was crazy,” said Hiney. “I kept saying to her, I can’t believe you ran and she kept saying ‘I knew I could make it.’ It was so exciting, everyone went nuts. If we don’t get that run, we don’t win.”
Esky still trailed in the bottom of the fifth, but Lexi Chaillier got on base via an error to start the rally. Heather Bergstrom singled and Claire McInerney groundout advanced the runners to second and third. Hiney then flew out to third bringing up Gauthier, who tore off the game winning hit with two outs.
“She hit that single and we just sent everybody,” said Hiney.
Chaillier an Bergstrom came in to score, giving Esky a 3-2 lead, but the girls still needed six outs with an injured Edington on the mound. She would play a big part in the final outs.
In the top of the seventh, Illinois put a runner on third, but Esky pulled off one of many outstanding defensive plays of the game to get her out. As the runner bolted for home on what turned out to be a fielder’s choice, the ball went right to Edington, who looked to first, but then flipped the ball right to Hiney at catcher where she tagged the runner out at home.
“That was huge,” said Hiney. “That run would have killed us.”
The final out was nearly as dramatic. The Illinois batter hit a pop fly near the fence at third base, where Bergstrom pulled off a tough catch.
“The coach and the runner at third were in her way and Heather had to maneuver around them and make the catch,” said Hiney. “I thought the coach had to move, I always do. I’m not sure if that’s a rule, but she caught it anyway and that ended the game.”
There were a handful more great defensive efforts during the game. Gauthier helped turn a double play in the second inning, getting her glove on a line drive at shortstop. McInerney caught four infield fly balls at second base and a couple of them were gems, including a running, diving catch in the fifth.
“McInerney was phenomenal at second, snagging balls,” said Hiney. “She looked like Spider-Man, making throws just in time. That diving catch, I don’t even know how she caught it, but she did, and she held it up like ‘I got it.'”
The World Series looms, beginning Sunday in the suburbs of Seattle, but Hiney is doing his best to keep his team focused on the task at hand. Not an easy task being that his team won’t play again until Thursday due to another rainout, Tuesday afternoon and two elimination bracket games still to be played. Escanaba won’t know its opponent until Wednesday evening.
“It’s looking like it will either be Illinois or Indiana, but the host team from Ohio is also still alive,” said Hiney. “We’re not worried about the World Series. We just want to win the next game and I think they want it too. These girls are gamers.”
In the meantime, the Esky girls have made quite a few friends with girls on the other teams.
“Everyone loves us here,” said Hiney. “Indiana comes and hangs out with us. We’re nice and friendly to everyone.”