Thrilling Gladstone Girls Minor win over Esky

Mike Mattson | Daily Press Gladstone coach Rick Pepin, left, and his team congratulate Maggie Buckley, wearing helmet at right, after she knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning against Escanaba.

ESCANABA — A scoreless pitcher’s duel highlighted most of Sunday’s District 10 Little League Minor Girls championship game at Lemerand Park.

All the scoring came late as Maggie Buckley drove in Montgomery Pepin from third base with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning in Gladstone’s thrilling 2-1 victory against bayshore rival Escanaba.

Gladstone head coach Rick Pepin, a former boys’ varsity basketball mentor at Rapid River, celebrated with his team after the gem played by the two talented squads.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been that excited and been a part of a dramatic finish even when I coached varsity basketball at Rapid River,” Pepin said. “Just unbelievable.”

Esky defeated Gladstone earlier in the tourney, so Sunday’s outcome sets up another 6 p.m. showdown today at Lemerand Park between the rivals with a winner-take-all trip to the state tourney at Van Buren.

Mike Mattson | Daily Press Escanaba's Grayson LaMarche delivers a pitch Sunday against Gladstone at Lemerand Park.

It looked like Escanaba would pull out its second win over Gladstone and win the district title.

Grayson LaMarche opened the top of the seventh with a double off Gladstone reliever Rylee Gerow. LaMarche advanced to third on a groundout by McKenzie Engebrigtsen and came home on Natalie Beauchamp’s RBI single to right field for a 1-0 lead.

“She battled hard in the box and got a nice hit out of it to drive in the run,” Esky coach Steve Braun said about Beauchamp’s clutch hit.

Beauchamp’s RBI set the stage for the dramatic bottom of the seventh inning as LaMarche, Esky’s ace pitcher, came out to finish the game.

But Gladstone answered the challenge. Addie Trombley reached on a bunt single, stole second base and came home with the tying run on Montgomery Pepin’s RBI single up the middle.

Mike Mattson | Daily Press Gladstone's Montgomery Pepin delivers a pitch against Escanaba Sunday at Lemerand Park.

Pepin, who advanced to third base on the throw to home plate, came home with the game winner on Buckley’s one-out grounder to second base.

“I was really nervous I wasn’t going to hit the ball,” Buckley said. “I was really scared, but my teammates were cheering me on and there were people in the crowd cheering me on so I just hit the ball.”

As Gladstone celebrated, Braun reflected about a game that slipped away.

“It was a battle the whole time and a pitcher’s duel,” Braun said. “They pulled out Montgomery and we thought we had that run. We’ve been playing solid defense and Grayson has been pitching great and they just tagged a couple and caught us looking I guess. They earned it.

“Gladstone is a great team. We knew it was going to be a tough game and we knew it was going to be an exciting game. It lived up to its hype.”

LaMarche and Montgomery Pepin hooked up in classic duel for six innings.

Pepin scattered three hits, struck out six, walked one and hit one batter. LaMarche had a one-hitter through six innings, allowing three hits total, striking out 10 and walking one.

“That duel between Montgomery and Grayson, what a treat,” Rick Pepin said. “They are even better kids than they are pitchers.”

The good news for Gladstone is Montgomery Pepin can pitch in today’s title game because she exited Sunday’s contest after six innings.

LaMarche, however, can’t pitch today because she stayed in Sunday’s game in the seventh and by rule must rest a day. Braun said Engebrigtsen will get today’s start for Esky.

Braun rolled the dice and tried to finish Sunday’s game with LaMarche.

“It was a huge gamble we took,” he said. “It definitely worked against me. I definitely didn’t like making that decision. We talked about it. If we hadn’t got the run, we probably would not have done that.

“We held them to zero runs in six innings and figured we only had to do it one more time and we just couldn’t get it done. Obviously hindsight is 20-20. We went for the win and I didn’t get it.”

“I totally understand what Escanaba did, they had the upper hand,” Rick Pepin said. “If it’s 0-0 he probably doesn’t do that. And why wouldn’t you do that with a pitcher in Grayson LaMarche?”

Esky had one other prime scoring opportunity in the fifth inning after Katie Lamb singled. After advancing to third base, Lamb was caught trying to score off a wild pitch as Gladstone catcher Lauren Sundquist fired the ball to Pepin for the tag at home plate.

Lamb had two hits to pace Esky, while Engbrigtsen laced a second-inning double.

Trombley also had a first-inning single and finished with two hits for Gladstone.

Rick Pepin said his team must regroup quickly and get focused for the today’s showdown against Esky for the district crown.

“This is a wonderful learning experience for these young kids,” Pepin said. “And a memory they will talk about for the rest of their lives-no matter what happens (Monday).

“I told the girls we need to wash our hands of this big win. If we come here tomorrow still celebrating what happened today, then we are not in the right frame of mind to play team softball. I don’t know if 9 and 10 year old girls understand that.”

Added Braun: “We are looking forward to another battle. We’ll come out with our heads held high and swinging the bats.”