GLADSTONE - This is one victory lap the Escanaba Major Girls' Little League All-Stars (age 11-12) may never forget.
Esky earned its quick post-game tour around Howes Family Field Sunday night, outlasting Gladstone 9-8 in eight innings for the District 10 title.
The victory enables Esky to return to Gladstone Sports Park Friday at 10 a.m. to face Taylor in a state tourney opener.
Claire McInerney's single along the left field line provided Esky with the game-winner after it loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth.
"I was kind of excited when I went up to bat because everybody was cheering for me," said McInerney. "I was also kind of nervous. I thought the ball would land in foul territory because it looked like it was going that way in the air. I started laughing and crying when I saw it land in fair territory."
McInerney also lifted Esky into an 8-8 tie on an error in the fourth, forcing the extra innings.
Gladstone, fueled by Heather Bergstrom's two-run single to right, gained a 4-0 advantage in the opening frame.
"It's always a battle when we play our neighbors from across the bay," said Gladstone manager Duane Hardwick. "The teams always bring it up a notch when they play each other. We knew we had to jump on them right away. We knew they weren't just going to lay down."
Esky, fueled by Malary Hiney's two-run single to left and Darby Beckon's RBI single to right, scored seven times for a 7-4 lead in its half of the first.
"We knew this wasn't going to be as easy as the first meeting (a 6-0 victory on July 2), although it was a little surprising to see them score four runs in the first inning," said Esky manager Amy Bruntjens. "Yet, we knew our girls would respond. They never lost in their ability to come back."
Leigha Woelffer's infield single brought Gladstone within 7-5 in the second. Jenna Steinhoff's single to right trimmed the deficit to 7-6 in the third, setting the stage for Gladstone's tying and go-ahead runs in the fourth.
"We felt we had the momentum on our side," said Hardwick. "We didn't have any uneasy feelings about our hitting. We knew we could score."
Gladstone outhit Esky 10-8, led by Serina Sinnaeve, Taylor Gauthier and Jaden Schwartz with two each. McInerney paced Esky with three.
Hannah Edington, who pitched the entire contest, gained her third post-season win. She struck out two, walked two and hit a batter.
"Hannah's pitching came on in the last three innings," said Bruntjens. "Both teams hit the ball very well, but they (Gladstone) weren't driving the ball like they did in the earlier innings."
Gauthier, who went the distance, took the loss. She fanned four and walked three.
Gladstone reached the title game by eliminating Kingsford 7-4 on Saturday.