Braves’ season ends in state semifinal
Eight-run first inning dooms Gladstone
EAST LANSING – Napoleon came out with its bats blazing Friday in the Division 2 state semifinal softball game at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium.
The Pirates exploded for eight runs in the top of the first inning and never looked back in routing Gladstone 16-0 in five innings.
Napoleon sent 11 batters to the plate and delivered seven hits in a first-inning uprising that proved too much for the Braves to overcome.
“It was just one of those moments where we all just sat there and thought, ‘What’s happening, what’s going on?’ Gladstone senior first baseman Tasi Martinez said about the start of the game. “But I give it to them. They hit the ball and they hit the ball hard. They are a phenomenal hitting team. They earned a lot of those runs. It’s hard to come back after getting in that 8-0 deficit.”
Napoleon (36-4) advances to today’s 5:30 p.m. title game against two-time defending state champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, which defeated Shepherd 1-0 in its semifinal.
The Pirates finished with 19 hits and played errorless ball.
Gladstone (34-10) managed only three hits off Pirates’ pitcher Sydney Coe, who struck out six and walked three.
The Braves, who stranded five base runners, advanced two runners to third base but couldn’t bring them home.
Gladstone coach John Nevala never imagined such a start that put his team way behind the eight ball early.
“I never fathomed that,” said Nevala, whose team committed two errors. “The way we’ve been playing ball, and the way (Jenna Steinhoff) has been pitching, I didn’t see this coming.
“I thought with them being the first time here, they’d have a little nerves, but they came out hammering the ball and they did well. They ran the bases good and did everything good.”
Gladstone has made 11 trips to the Final Four, with three state titles and one runner-up finish. Last year, the Braves’ season ended in the semifinal with a 15-0 loss to Monroe St. Mary CC.
The experience from last year didn’t seem to pay off against Napoleon, which made its first trip to the Final Four.
Napoleon coach Doug Richardson admitted his team was nervous.
“I have eight seniors on the team and they all seemed to be focused when the game started,” Richardson said. “They were nervous as hell before it started and I think they gathered themselves well.”
Did Richardson imagine such a start from the Pirates?
“Not in my wildest dreams, but I knew we could throw a couple runs on them,” he said. “It just kept snowballing downhill.”
Napoleon added three runs in the second inning, one run in the fourth and four runs in the fifth inning.
Steinhoff, who led Gladstone on its late-season run, suffered the loss. She worked four innings, allowing 13 hits and nine earned runs, striking out two and walking none. Lexi Winling came on in relief in the fifth and allowed six hits and four earned runs.
Alyssa Polley and Hannah Sharon each had singles for the Braves and Kaitlyn Hardwick delivered a leadoff double in the second inning.
“We came here and we thought we could win,” said Polley, who along with Steinhoff are team captains. “We did all we could. It didn’t turn out how we wanted out there, but it’s nothing to hang our heads about. I know this team will be back next year.”
Kallie Pittman had four hits for the Pirates, with Ashton Jordan producing three hits and three RBIs, Haley Rose collecting three hits and Ashton Jordan adding three hits and three RBIs.
Napoleon will get the challenge of trying to knock MSMCC and standout University of Michigan-bound pitcher Meghan Beaubien off their perch today.
Gladstone, meanwhile saw another impressive season come to a close and the careers end for seniors Cassidy Hanson, Polley, Martinez and Steinhoff.
“It’s been an honor to play with all these girls,” said Martinez, who experienced three Final Fours along with Polley. “I couldn’t be more proud of my team and be happy with the girls I got to experience all these memories with.”
“This team was so much fun to play with.” Polley said. “We got along so well. There is nothing more I could have asked for than to spend my last year with them here.”
Nevala, the first-year coach, won’t let Friday’s outcome spoil another impressive year for Gladstone softball.
“I just told the girls they made it down here this far,” he said. “They had an excellent year. They have no reason to hang their heads. I’m just proud I was
able to coach them this year, especially the four seniors. We have a lot of talent coming through the program. It’s encouraging. I’m ready for next year again.“