Escanaba blanks No. 1 Swan Valley, gets Richmond rematch

Photo by Tim Robinson The Escanaba softball team celebrates its Division 2 quarterfinal win Tuesday following its 5-0 victory over top-ranked Saginaw Swan Valley in Mount Pleasant.

MOUNT PLEASANT — They’re going back.

The Escanaba softball team knocked off the best team at the end of the regular season to do it, beating Saginaw Swan Valley 5-0 to advance to Thursday morning’s Division 2 semifinal in East Lansing.

There, the Eskymos (33-4) will take on the Division 2 defending champs, a Richmond team (32-4) that downed the Eskymos 6-2 in last year’s semifinals en route to the title.

The Blue Devils needed eight innings to beat Dearborn Divine Child 4-2 in Novi on Tuesday to get to the Final Four.

Escanaba made sure extra innings weren’t necessary, getting all the runs it needed in a three-run fourth, making two double plays and holding the Vikings (40-2) to just two hits.

Photo by Tim Robinson Escanaba's Jarrika McAlpine scores the Eskymos' first run of the game on a fielder's choice in the fourth inning, beating the throw to Swan Valley catcher Becca Curtis. McAlpine scored Escanaba's fifth and final run in the fifth inning.

“We’re excited,” Escanaba coach Jamie Segorski said. “We went there last year, and I think the girls were a little bit overwhelmed. This year, we’ve been there before, we’re ready to play and we’re excited.”

The Eskymos lost a game at Swan Valley earlier in the year, 7-6, a result that stuck with Escanaba until Tuesday.

“We’ve been waiting for this game all year,” pitcher-first baseman Katie Ross said.

The Eskymos got their wish for payback starting in the fourth inning.

With one out, Jarrika McAlpine and Taylor Segorski walked and Aubree Saunders walked to load the bases. The next hitter, Maddie Griffin, laid down a perfectly placed squeeze bunt, and McAlpine beat the throw home to give the Eskymos their first run.

Photo by Tim Robinson Escanaba's Taylor Gauthier beats a throw to second base for a leadoff double in the fifth inning Tuesday. She later scored the Eskymos' fourth run.

“She put it where no one could get it,” Jamie Segorski said. “That’s all you can ask for.”

Taylor Segorski added a hitter’s perpective on Swan Valley pitcher Callie Burgess.

“She was coming inside hard the first couple pitches, then all of a sudden she swung it outside,” Taylor Segorski said. “Once you figured out that pattern, it became easier.”

Emily Bruntjens took advantage two batters later, driving home two runs with a single off an outside fastball to cap the scoring.

“I was expecting a rise or something different, but she pitched it on the outside corner,” Bruntjens said.

Taylor Gauthier doubled and scored on a single with one out in the fifth, and McAlpine finished the scoring after singling and scoring on a Swan Valley error.

Meanwhile, the Eskymos’ defense was making big plays, with a 4-6-3 double play to end the fourth and another which turned out to be a back-breaker in the sixth.

Swan Valley’s Carlee Larsen led off the inning with a single, and the next batter, Becca Curtis, lifted a soft fly ball to short right field.

Lexi Chaillier, on a dead run, dove for the ball and made the catch. Larsen, who was near second base, tried to return, but Challier threw to Ross for the double play.

“At first I thought it was going to take a bounce and (Larsen) was going to third,” said Bruntjens, who had an excellent view from her post in center field, “so it was great to watch her catch that.”

“It’s a credit to her,” Jamie Segorski said of Challier, “a sophomore playing on the big stage, and she did a great job.”

Ross pitched the first three innings and allowed one hit with two strikeouts. Gabi Salo came on in relief in the fourth and allowed one hit, hit one batter and struck out two.

Jamie Segorski’s daughter Taylor, who was icing her glove hand in a postgame interview, laughed when asked what happened.

“I don’t know when it happened,” she said. “I think it was because Gabi was throwing heat. I probably caught one wrong and didn’t know it because of all the adrenalin.”

She laughed as she said it, knowing it would hurt tomorrow, but for the best of reason.

“It means the world,” Segorski said. “It gives us a second chance. We ended up losing in the semifinals last year, so to get that second shot, we’re ready to go.”

The Eskymos will be joined by Gladstone, which will play in the Division 3 semifinals on Friday.

Jamie Segorski, asked his reaction to two Delta County teams in East Lansing, was emphatic.

“Oh, you’re darn skippy, yeah,” he said. “We have great softball in Delta County. Gladstone has been a Division 3 power for years, and we’ve been playing well the last few years, too. We’re excited to go down.”

Bruntjens is one of six seniors who will end their careers in East Lansing this week.

“I’m sure it’s going to be less nerve-wracking, but I’m a senior, so it’s going to be my last shot,” she said. “I’m glad to be back.”

Asked if playing two in East Lansing was the goal, Bruntjens smiled.

“Yes,” she said. ‘That’s what I’m hoping for.