AKRON, Ohio - Blowout an opponent, survive a rally attempt, launch a massive comeback, manufacture runs and win a pitchers duel. The Escanaba Junior (age 13-14) League All-Stars have seen it all and conquered it all, but Wednesday's Central regional title game against Poland, Ohio was the icing on the cake.
Escanaba, which has now won 15 straight games during their tournament run, is headed to the Junior League World Series in Kirkland, Wash. after defeating the Ohio state champions 3-1 in dramatic fashion.
"The girls were so resilient, so strong. It was a great performance; nothing got these girls down the entire tournament. It's just been absolutely amazing, they've won in every way you can conceive," said Escanaba manager Jamie Segorski.
Poland scored their lone run in the first inning. With a runner at second, a fly ball was hit to the catcher to advance the runner to third. She then scored on a wild pitch to left field. The 1-0 lead was nearly enough to win it for the Ohio state champs.
Fortunately, Escanaba pitcher Katie Ross and fantastic defense behind her, kept the the Esky All-Stars in the game until the bats woke up. Ross allowed just the lone unearned run in the first and shut down the Poland All-Stars the rest of the way.
Poland's ace however, was equally formidable.
"Their pitcher (Aleah Hughes) pitched a fantastic game," said Segorski. "The girls hit the ball, but we were hitting it right at them. They weren't hitting it hard and were just missing it.
"I kept telling the girls, keep playing, keep playing, they're going to fall in."
Fall in they did.
Escanaba got the break they needed, and believed they would get in the top of the seventh inning.
It started with Ross, who finished off a clutch at-bat with a walk.
"Katie was down 0-2 in the count, fouled off four straight pitches and ended up getting a walk," said Segorski. "It was absolutely fantastic to watch."
Mackenzie Leisner then safely bunted Ross to third before stealing second base. With runners at second and third, Kayla Van Portfliet ripped an RBI single to right field, scoring Ross and moving Leisner to third. Manager Segorski then inserted Emily LaFave as a pinch-runner at second.
That brought up Taylor Segorski with no outs. Down 0-2 in the count, she executed a suicide-squeeze bunt. Poland tried to throw the runner out at home, but it wasn't in time and Leisner scored. The catcher was overthrown on top of it, allowing LaFave to score on the same play to give Escanaba a 3-1 lead.
Ohio wasn't done and came out swinging until the end. The Poland All-Stars hit two long fly balls and a grounder, with Escanaba executing fantastic fielding on all three balls.
"Emma Birch, Leisner and Callie Heller all made great plays to preserve the win," said Segorski. "This was a fantastic combination of great pitching and tremendously solid defense."
Escanaba had an opportunity to score earlier in the game when Leisner on second with one out. Segorski said "We tried to get a bunt from second to third but couldn't get the bunt down. It was a tough pitch to get the bat off.
"(Hughes) was overpowering. She was really pumping it in there. I had a radar on her earlier in the tournament and clocked her at 62 miles per hour. She was really bringing it."
Despite the lack of offense, Segorski said the girls never got discouraged.
"The girls never got down. They stayed in the game and stayed positive. You could hear them in the dugout saying 'we're going to score', 'stay strong on defense.'," he said. "There was a lot of emotional energy. They knew at some point they would push a run or two across, and they did."
Escanaba is now off to Kirkland, Wash. to play the best the world has to offer. The team will fly out on Saturday.
In addition to the five United States regional champions that will be there, is the national regional champions of Canada, Latin America, Asia Pacific and Europe.
Escanaba is slated to play Asia Pacific Sunday at 2:45 PDT. Indonesia earned the right to represent that region but was unable to send their team to the Series, so it will be an opponent yet to be determined.
"It's been crazy the emotions we've gone through these past few weeks, and the games have just been up and down all the way through," said Segorski. "We were in a tournament with nine straight champions. It's amazing that we're coming out of it."