GLADSTONE - A last ditch comeback fell short for the Escanaba Major Girls' Little League All-Stars (age 11-12) Sunday as they dropped a 5-3 decision to South Portage in the final round of pool play in the state softball tournament.
Esky, eliminated from the tourney, did all its scoring in the sixth inning after South Portage had scored twice to take a 5-0 advantage in its half of the frame.
The defending state champions return to Howes Family Field today to face Beaverton at 2 p.m.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Escanaba’s Alex Zelenak reaches base safely in the third inning as South Portage first baseman Paige Poulter waits for the throw Sunday during the Little League state tournament at Howes Field in Gladstone.
"This wasn't easy, that's for sure," said South Portage manager Tim Bell. "We made some boo-boos here and there, and they made us burn up a pitcher for tomorrow. This is a reminder that we have to play hard the full six innings."
Emily Bruntjens opened Esky's sixth with a bunt single, then got the area team on the board on three straight wild pitches.
Claire McInerney and Hannah Edington following by drawing walks and scored Esky's final runs on Darby Beckon's single to rightfield.
"This was the best played game in the whole tournament," said Esky manager Amy Bruntjens. "Hannah Edington's pitching was on and we played fantastic defense. If we could have gotten a little earlier in the sixth, it could have been a different outcome."
South Portage, which led 3-0 after five frames, started its half of the sixth with Kayla Blett's infield single. Paige Poulter then walked and Stephanie Gonzer's sacrifice bunt advanced the baserunners to second and third with one out.
Kendall Taylor's bunt single then gave South Portage a four-run cushion and Monica Locker's sacrifice bunt raised the count to 5-0.
"Our girls did a great job getting the bunts down," said Bell. "We weren't getting runners on base like we did in other games. Stephanie, Kendall and Monica were the difference makers today."
Blett, who finished 3-for-3, drove in South Portage's first run on a single to left in the opening frame and made it 2-0 with a double to left in the third.
Poulton then added an RBI single to right for a 3-0 lead, also in the third.
Beckon had two of Esky's four hits off a trio of South Portage pitchers, who combined for six strikeouts.
Edington pitched the entire contest, striking out four, walking one and allowing six hits.
"I'm so proud of our team," said manager Bruntjens. "The girls really gave it their all. They (South Portage) had seven girls on a team that went to the regionals last year. That's huge."
On Saturday, Edington went 4-for-4 to lead Esky in a 13-4 conquest of Negaunee on Cannon Field.
Emily Bruntjens collected three hits. Malary Hiney added two, including a leadoff triple in a six-run fifth. Sam Henderson also had two hits.
Esky gained a 7-0 lead on Beckon's sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Negaunee then took advantage of two errors and three walks to pull within 7-4 in its half of the fourth, setting the stage for Esky's big fifth.
Esky finished with 13 hits.