TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - One swing of Jess Beaudry's bat put the Gladstone Braves softball team back on track - back to the Final Four that is. The Braves are going to Michigan State University thanks to another gem of a pitching performance by ace Christine Sharon and a clutch first inning hit from Beaudry. Gladstone knocked of Muskegon Oakridge 5-1 Tuesday in a MHSAA Division 3 state quarterfinal game at Traverse City West High School.
Facing an Oakridge pitcher that was every bit as good as advertised in senior Nicole DePender, it was important for Gladstone to get to her early, and the Braves did.
DePender was called for an illegal pitch on her first pitch of the game and that seemed to rattle her a bit. She issued a walk to Sharon, the Braves leadoff batter, and then hit Sadie Strasser with a pitch. Lexi Hongisto then bunted safely to first to load the bases with no outs. That brought up Beaudry who ripped a no-doubt, bases clearing 3-RBI double. The 3-0 lead would be all the offense Sharon and company needed to put Oakridge away.
Keith Shelton |?Daily Press
Gladstone senior Jess Beaudry hits a 3-RBI, bases clearing double in the first inning of Tuesday’s Division 3 state quarterfinal game against Muskegon?oakridge at Traverse City West High School. The hit gave Gladstone a 3-0 lead en route to the Braves’ 5-1 victory.
Keith Shelton |?Daily Press
Gladstone’s Christine Sharon delivers a pitch in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup against Muskegon Oakridge, while first baseman Jess Beaudry looks on. The Braves won, 5-1.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Gladstone shortstop Lexi Hongisto hits a bunt single in the first inning of Tuesday’s Division 3 state quarterfinal game against Muskegon Oakridge. The hit loaded the bases.
"The girls were all hyped up before the game and wanted to jump on them right from the start, and thankfully they did," said Braves manager Ashley Hughes. "They gave Teener a little bit of a cushion. unfortunately we didn't tally much the rest of the innings, but those three were a great start."
Of coming up to bat with the bases loaded, Beaudry said, "It happened to me in the last game too and I kind of choked in that situation. I said to myself, you know what, it's not going to happen again. I'm going to hit them in, and it worked," she said. "It felt great, I can't tell you how good it felt."
DePender however, settled in after the big hit and struck out six of the next seven Braves batters and retiring 10 straight.
Gladstone would find little daylight until the sixth, only getting one runner on base in the next four innings.
Fortunately, Sharon stayed composed on the mound, facing a good hitting Oakridge lineup. All-stater senior shortstop Morgan Giddings had just one hit but got on base three out of four times up, once on a walk and once on a fielder's choice.
Sharon had a no-hitter going until the fifth inning when DePender hit a base single up the middle. The Eagles would load the bases after Maddi Dalton was issued a walk and Giddings got her lone hit. Abby Lowe grounded out however, to end the inning without a run scoring.
After Gladstone went down in order in the bottom of the order, Oakridge threatened again. Alyssa Fessender led off with a single and Hannah Reinhold followed with a base hit. With two outs, Taylor Hall hit an RBI single to score Fessender.
Sharon struck out Brooke Wilde to escape the inning without further damage.
The Eagles run only seemed to motivate Gladstone. Strasser led off with the sixth with a base hit, and with two outs, Morgan Kowalksi launched an RBI double. Bridget Becker then hit an RBI single to lift Gladstone to a 5-1 lead. Anna Caramella followed with a hit but DePender got Mikayla Depuydt to fly out.
"We kept saying three's not enough, then they got one and we started saying two's not enough," said Beaudry. "We had to come out and get that push, and we got it, and it was great."
With the big lead, Sharon left no doubt. She retired the Eagles in order in the seventh. She struck out 12, walked two and allowed five hits in the victory. DePender struck out seven, more than most pitchers have been able to rack up against the Braves this season. she walked one, hit one batter and allowed six hits.
"We struck out quite a bit against her," said Beaudry. "Everyone did, it wasn't just one person. It really felt good to come out on top of that."
For Hughes, the Braves' first-year manager, a trip to the Final Four at Michigan State is a goal realized.
"I'm just on cloud nine right now," she said. "I had high expectations for the girls at the beginning of the season and this is such a great group of girls and a great group of athletes, I knew they could get this far.
"I'm absolutely ecstatic and so excited for the girls. They're pumped to be going down to Lansing."
Gladstone (26-2) advances to Friday's state semifinal at Michigan State University where they will face Coloma at 10 a.m.