TRAVERSE CITY For Unionville-Sebewaing, it was a dominating performance, the fifth straight shutout in the Division 3 softball playoffs to date. For the Gladstone girls of Manager Gerry Smith, it was a tough way to end what was another remarkable season.
Unionville's long-armed sophomore pitcher Erica Treiber unleashed a lethal mixture of fastballs, rise balls and off-speed pitches, handcuffing the Brave batters all game long en route to a thoroughly impressive 7-0 triumph in Tuesday's quarterfinal game played at Traverse City West High School.
USA (34-3) now faces Holton, a 2-1 winner Tuesday over Grandville Calvin Christian, in the semifinals at Bailey Park in Battle Creek on Friday at 10:30 a.m. In the other semifinal, Allen Park Cabrini (29-5) plays Dundee (43-1) at 11 a.m.
Gladstone’s Jessica Beaudry keeps her head down as she walks past the celebrating Unionville-Sebewaing players after the final out of Tuesday’s Division 3 state quarterfinal.
Unionville senior Chelsey Bitzer makes an acrobatic move around Gladstone catcher Jordan Kowalski to score on Tuesday during their MHSAA DIvision 3 state quarterfinal at Traverse City
This is the first time since 2007 that Gladstone will not be making the trip south to Battle Creek. The Braves, which finished with an outstanding 28-2 record, made their 11th straight appearance in the quarterfinals Tuesday and they were looking to reach the Final Four for the sixth straight time.
Trieber made sure it didn't happen. The seed-throwing USA pitcher held Gladstone without a hit while striking out 13 and not issuing a single walk. She was the chief difference in the outcome.
"She was excellent, definitely the best pitcher we've faced this year," acknowledged Gladstone senior catcher Jordan Kowalski after the game, the emotion of the moment very evident in her features. "It was hard to get anything going against her."
"Their pitcher was awesome," he said. "She hit the corners really well. They have a good ball club all the way around and we didn't play the way we're capable of playing. We didn't play good enough to win and that's the bottom line."
Smith credited USA but wished his team had given a performance more in line with what the Braves have exhibited all season.
"They played much better than us today and deserved it but we also hurt ourselves by making too many mistakes," he said. "We weren't ready mentally and it showed. We made errors in the field that we don't normally make. They had the big inning and things got away from us in a hurry."
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth when the Patriots scratched out an unearned run with a walk, a fielder's choice, a single by Trieber and a two-out fielding error.
The Patriots added to their lead the following inning, rapping out six hits, all singles, and scoring five runs. The last two runs came on squeeze bunts. Trieber again played a key role, stinging a two-run single in the midst of the uprising. USA's Rachael Hahn also recorded a two-run single in the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, junior Allison Hoppe put an exclamation point on her team's big win with a solo home run to center field to make it 7-0.
The Braves only had two base runners in the game, both as a result of USA errors, and could not get either one to second base.
Trieber had a perfect game going until the top of the fifth when Kowalski smacked a high pop up that the USA shortstop circled under but failed to catch.
In the seventh inning, leadoff hitter Sadie Steasser reached when the USA third baseman did not cleanly field Strasser's grounder.
Gladstone sophomore shortstop Lexi Hongisto came closest to getting a hit. In the fourth inning with two out, she whacked a line drive that appeared headed into left field but USA third baseman Breanna Dinsmoore put her glove up just in time to make a "snow cone" catch with the ball protruding from the webbing.
Gladstone senior pitcher Alison Austin, playing in the final game of her notable prep career, pitched better than the final score indicates. Aside from the one big inning, she did a good job of neutralizing the powerful Patriot lineup. In the five-run fifth inning, the Patriots pounded some hard hits mixed in with some soft ones. The Braves also made a few uncharacteristic mental miscues that kept the rally going.
Austin struck out three and allowed 11 hits with three walks in the game.
Right fielder Grace Zimmerman made a nice running catch of a soft fly ball to record the final out of the third inning with a runner on base.
USA coach Steve Bohn, whose team played in the quarterfinals for the 10th straight year, though the previous nine were in Division 4, was surprised his team faced Gladstone on Tuesday.
"I think they got so tired of seeing USA and Gladstone down at Battle Creek that they put us together in the quarterfinals so one of us wouldn't get there," he said with a laugh.
Bohn was naturally elated with his team's victory over the perennially tough Braves.
"To have this type of performance against Gladstone is just incredible," he said. "I was scared to death before today's game. Gladstone has such a great group of athletes and they're so well coached. Fortunately, Erica had a big day for us."
Smith was disappointed with the Braves' showing Tuesday but very pleased overall with the season, especially considering the team's young roster.
"The girls did great," he said. "I'm happy that we got as far as we did. We'll miss the seniors but we have a real solid group of returnees and now they know what it takes to get here and hopefully what it takes to get out of here."
Smith commended seniors Austin, Kowalski, Zimmerman, Nicolle Trudeau and Ashley Berthaume and thanked them for their contributions to the success of the program during their years with the team.
Kowalski, tears flowing down her cheeks, talked about what she and her fellow seniors experienced as part of the Braves' program.
"This wasn't the best way to go out but it was still a great year and we came a long way," she said. "I'm proud of the team for what we accomplished, especially being so young. I don't think anybody expected us to be here again but we made it. It's been such a great time for us seniors. We did so much together the past four years and we all have so many memories."