GLADSTONE - Whitney Wells misfired in the first game but came through in the clutch in the nightcap for the Gladstone Braves Thursday.
Wells delivered a two-out, two-run single up the middle of the sixth inning to give the Braves a 5-3 victory and a sweep of arch-rival Escanaba. The Braves won the opener 2-0.
"It was especially good for her to get the winning single," said Gladstone manager Gerry Smith.
Courtney Nevala of Gladstone makes a futile attempt to avoid the tag by Escanaba shortstop Mallory Zimmerman in the third inning of Thursday’s opener at Gladstone. Nevala was caught when a suicide squeeze bunt failed. For more photos, visit cu.dailypress.net.(Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
The sharp shot came after relief pitcher Makayla Schuster struck out Courtney Nevala with runners at second and third. Alex Saunders was hit by a pitch to start the inning, then Sam Strasser reached with a bunt single that was intended to be a sacrifice. "The location (of the bunt) was just perfect," said Smith.
In the opener, Wells failed to make contact on a suicide squeeze bunt in the third inning, which left Nevala hung up off third base with no place to go. Shortstop Mallory Zimmerman tagged her out to end the rundown.
"She (Wells) didn't get a piece of the ball," said Smith. "Cort had such a jump on it. She would have been standing on the plate by the time they (Escanaba) touched the ball."
Escanaba manager John LaMarch, who lamented his team's inability to capitalize on a golden opportunity in the first inning of the nightcap, was not surprised the Braves came through.
"They've got a veteran team. They've been there before," he said. "They kind of seize the moment.
"We know we can play with them, but we have to execute in crucial situations."
The Eskymos opened the nightcap by getting the first five batters on base, but they could only manage two runs. The bases were loaded with no outs before Christine Sharon struck out the next two batters and got the third to line out to shortstop Jordan Schwartz.
"That is telling," LaMarch said of Sharon's clutch pitching that prevented the Eskymos from a breakout start. "We had our chances. That was an opportunity that slipped away from us."
Smith said the escape "took a lot of pressure off. We were down two and the bases were loaded and we worked right out of it. It changed our momentum. Our defense did it but our offense came alive a little bit."
Jen Koish slapped a single past Schwartz, who dove to her left but came up empty against the left-handed hitter, for two runs in the top of the first. Two Gladstone errors contributed to the Esky rally.
Gladstone responded with two runs in the third on doubles by Saunders and Strasser, a single by Wells and a triple by Katie Becker. The rally came as a stiff wind coming in from left field died down and appeared to put all the hitters in a better comfort zone.
Jordan Kowalski then tied the game by slamming a home run to deep left off starting pitcher Kayli VanEffen. "She is a great hitter," said LaMarch. "When she comes up we throw the kitchen sink at her at every at-bat."
Smith said the tying homer "put a lot of relief in the dugout. The girls knew they could come back and win now."
Schuster entered the circle in the fifth and LaMarch said "she held the fort for a little bit. But Gladstone hits the ball well."
Wells, facing the junior southpaw for the first time, said she didn't even pay attention to facing a lefty. "I needed a solid hit. I focused on cutting it (the ball) right in half. It was definitely a solid hit, the first one all day."
Even though the pressure to deliver was obvious, Wells said "I just stayed relaxed. You can't get worked up. It was just a pitch I know I could hit (what she was looking for), whatever pitch came in the best."
Pulling out the sweep "is a good learning experience," said Wells. "We get ourselves in kind of tough situations and it is good to have experience in them."
In the opener, Gladstone scored the first run when Esky mishandled a swinging bunt by Nevala, with the throw sailing into the right field corner as Strasser scored and Nevala raced to third. The Braves added an insurance run in the fourth on a single by Kowalski and a double by Schwartz.
Sharon and Strasser had two hits in the opener, with Codi Jenshak allowing just two other hits in a losing effort. Jenshak and Braedyn Bosilovatz had the only hits off Sharon and Alison Austin, who worked the final four innings. VanEffen was the only Esky runner to reach second, but she was stranded at third.
In the nightcap, Syd Gafner had two of the four hits off Sharon and Austin, who again split circle chores. Jenshak and Koish singled after a walk and error for two runs in the first.
Wells and Kowalski had two hits for the Braves.
Escanaba (14-10) hosts Cheboygan twice today, then hosts a seven-team tournament Saturday. Gladstone (15-4-1) visits Sault Ste. Marie today and plays in the Tawas Invitational Saturday.