TRAVERSE CITY For the eighth time in 10 years, the Gladstone softball team has punched its ticket to Bailey Park. The Braves of manager Gerry Smith made it official here Tuesday in the Division 3 quarterfinals at Traverse City West High School, pounding out an 8-0 victory over Reed City.
Gladstone (26-5-1), which posted its fifth shutout in six games and has permitted just two runs in the postseason, faces Springport in the semifinals at 11 a.m. Friday on Diamond 3.
"The kids were determined, every one of them," Smith said following Tuesday's triumph. "Once we got started (hitting the ball), we kept it going. We had a couple big innings to pull away and Christine (Sharon) did the rest with her pitching. She was phenomenal today."
Members of the Gladstone Braves react after their 8-0 victory over Reed City in a Division III softball quarterfinal game. Gladstone advances to play at Bailey Park in Battle Creek Friday against Springport at 6 p.m. on Diamond 3.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Dunn)
Smith had a choice between the seed-throwing Sharon and junior Alison Austin, who mixes her pitches with combustible effectiveness. Both have pitched well in the playoffs and throughout the season.
"We got some information that the Onaway pitcher (Emily Estep) shut Reed City down with her speed, so we went with Christine today," Smith explained. "I have great confidence in both Christine and Alison and won't hesitate to use either one in Battle Creek."
Sharon found out about an hour before the game that her number was being called. She admitted to being a bit nervous at first.
"I was freaking out a little because I knew this was such a big game," Sharon said with a smile. "Once I got out there and threw to the first five or six batters, I felt like I was in my rhythm. I was pretty confident after that."
Sharon, who goes by the nickname "Teener" but could easily be called "C.S. Sizzle" when she's in the circle, was in the zone from the start. She struck out five of the first six batters she faced on her way to a 13-strikeout performance. She allowed Reed City two hits, both in the second inning, and retired the last 17 batters in a row. She didn't have a single walk.
"She's got great speed and she's very accurate," Smith said of the sophomore. "Jordan (Kowalski) did a great job of relaying the signals and setting up to show where she wanted the pitches to go."
Sharon's dominating performance from the rubber was complemented by excellent fielding behind her and two big scoring bursts at the plate.
The Braves were flawless in the field and had steady performances from Jordan Schwartz at shortstop and Alex Saunders at third. The Coyotes only hit two balls into the outfield. One went for a double off the bat of pitcher Courtney Morgan in the second and the other was a low line drive that left fielder Whitney Wells charged in and grabbed low to the ground to end the sixth.
Gladstone scored three runs in the fifth and four in the seventh to remove any drama about the outcome.
All three Braves' runs in the fifth came with two outs. Schwartz started things with a bloop double to center field and Kowalski, Jammie Botruff and Nicole Sharon each followed with an RBI single.
Gladstone was on top 4-0 at that point and the lead appeared daunting, the way the hard-throwing Sharon was mowing down the Coyote hitters like a freshly honed blade through dry grass.
"After we got ahead everybody kind of relaxed," Smith said. "Christine was throwing smoke and we finally got her some runs. From the fifth inning on, we hit the ball well. Sometimes it just takes one good hit to get everybody going."
Kowalski sparked the four-run seventh with a shot that sliced through the wind like a missile and clanged off the fence in deep left center for a double. Nicole Sharon stroked a two-run double in the inning and centerfielder Courtney Nevala drilled a two-run single.
Sharon closed it out with another three-up, three-down inning in the bottom of the seventh. The final out was a weak pop up off the bat of Morgan that appropriately went straight to Sharon standing near the rubber.
"It felt so, so good," Sharon said. "As the game went on, you could feel our excitement building as we realized we were getting that much closer to Battle Creek. It was all clicking for us."
Gladstone scored its first run in the fourth when Botruff singled, was sacrificed to second by Nicole Sharon, and came home on Saunders' screaming single to left.
Nicole Sharon finished with three hits with a double and two RBIs to go with a sacrifice bunt. Kowalski slammed a single and double and scored twice. Botruff busted two hits and scored twice with an RBI. Christine Sharon swatted a two-run single to close out the scoring in the seventh.
Springport defeated Buchanan 5-0 in its quarterfinal game Tuesday. Unionville Sebewaing plays Clinton in the other semifinal.
Rapid River, which also advanced to Battle Creek on Tuesday, faces Dansville at 6 p.m. Friday on Diamond 1 in a Division 4 semifinal.