AKRON, Ohio – The fire burnt out.
Through the first three games of the Junior League Softball U.S. Central Regional, the Escanaba girls seemingly had an unending supply of rallies, outstanding defensive plays and timely hits.
But none of it was present on regional championship Thursday.
Jeffersonville, Indiana lost on the first day of the tournament and was dropped to the loser’s bracket. The Indiana girls then reeled off six straight victories to reach the title game. Indiana needed to beat Escanaba twice Thursday to advance to the World Series in Kirkland, Wash. They did just that, sweeping Escanaba 11-0 and 5-0.
In each game, Jeffersonville jumped on Esky early.
Escanaba got two girls – Mallary Hiney and Taylor Gauthier, on base with back-to-back hits in the top of the first, but the next two girls struck out and Indiana took control.
Three costly errors in the bottom of the inning, helped Indiana to a 4-0 lead after the first inning and it only got worse from there. The Esky girls finished with five errors in the game and were mercied in the fifth inning.
“We started the day off with errors and we couldn’t get the bats going at all,” said Esky manager Vance Hiney when reached by phone en route back to Escanaba. “Everything we hit ended up being little dinkers. I think everyone was kind of burnt out. We had a day off there, while the team we played won seven in a row to win it. They’re a good team, the better team won.”
The second game of the doubleheader, originally scheduled for 1 p.m. was instead moved up to noon due to the early end of the first game.
Claire McInereny led the game off with a single and made it to third, but was stranded there.
In the bottom of the inning, Indiana, feeding off the momentum of the first game, again jumped to an early lead it would not relinquish, taking a 3-0 advantage.
“It wasn’t anything phenomenal they were doing,” said Hiney. “They were just hitting shots that were popping right over the infield and hitting gaps. They’re a good hitting team. We kind of beat ourselves up too by not hitting the ball. You have to score to win the game and they took us 5-0 in the last game. We just couldn’t get it going.”
The Esky girls stayed in it however and turned a double play in the third inning after a fly out to Maddy Griffin.
Indiana pitcher Camryn Teague didn’t give the Esky girls much to work with in either game. Escanaba put more balls in play in the second game, but still couldn’t get the timely hit they needed.
Hiney said despite the lopsided games, the Esky girls came to win and were focused on the task.
“We thought we could do this, really,” he said. “We just went in slacking and started out with errors, throwing the ball around, bad throws and hesitating on throws. They had to aim their throws almost like they were worried about it. Yo can’t do that, you have to just fire the ball.”
Still, all said and done, the young team from the little town of Escanaba accomplished a great deal – winning the state and getting a victory away from the World Series, putting them in an exclusive club. Hiney said the team wasn’t too upset afterward.
“I don’t think they’re too down on themselves,” said Hiney. “They’re pretty sad, they wanted to go and do something spectacular, but I think they realize they did pretty good all the way through this. I don’t think anyone expected us to get this far. They held it together and did a really good job, coming from behind against some tough teams. They have to be proud about that.”
Following the game, in a great display of sportsmanship, there were hugs all around between both teams as they posed together for a group team photo.
“A lot of the girls made friends with the Indiana team. Everyone down there loved us and even the parents hung out together,” said Hiney. “We had a party in the parking lot after one of our games and the Indiana team were the only ones that came and hung out with us. It was almost like it was meant to be us playing them for the title. They’re nice people over there. They were hugging after the game, it was pretty neat. Everyone at the stadium loved it.”
Hiney said now that the team wasn’t going to be gone all next week, they could enter their pigs in the U.P. state fair along with Hannah Edington.
Due to the late arrival time for the team, a welcome home gathering wasn’t being planned, but Hiney still thanked the community for the support.
“I just want to thank Elmer’s County Market and Mike Dagenais and the whole community,” said Hiney. “I can’t remember all the businesses and parents that came together and helped us. It’s an excellent community that gets behind us or any team that makes it there. It’s a wonderful thing.”