Esky celebrates state title, falls to Cardinals

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press The Escanaba softball team celebrated its 2018 Division 2 state title before Friday’s game against Millington by bringing back last year’s seniors to unveil the championship sign in left-center field.

ESCANABA — In a game that had a playoff-type atmosphere, the Millington Cardinals temporarily spoiled the fun for the Escanaba softball team here Friday night, shutting out the Eskymos 3-0 on a night Esky celebrated its 2018 Division 2 state title. It was also the opening night of the Escanaba Invitational.

Millington didn’t take long to get on the board off Esky ace pitcher Gabi Salo. Sydney Bishop got hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the second inning, then scored two batters later on McKenna Slough’s RBI double just past the out-stretched glove of Esky’s Jalin Olson in center field.

After Millington pitcher Gabbie Sherman struck out nine straight to start the contest, the Eskymos (13-1) had their best chance to score in the fourth inning when Lexi Chaillier led off with a deep double that hit the fence in center field. But Sherman responded by fanning the next two hitters and Dakota Cloutier grounded out to shortstop to end the threat.

“We couldn’t get the bunt down there. If we do the little things right, we probably get a run or two there off of her,” Esky coach Gary Salo said. “We just didn’t do the little things right.”

Sherman said she was motivated by Esky unveiling its state championship-winning sign before the game.

“They unveiled that before the game and it just kind of got me hungry. After beating them last year and to come back this year, it just kind of made me mad and made me want it more.

“Kind of everything was working for me today. I didn’t throw as many change-ups .. I worked them in here in there but my catcher called a great game. We worked really together.”

The Cardinals (19-2) added to their lead in the fifth. Madi Hahn led off with an infield single, then two batters later Trinity Fessler hit a soft ground ball to Esky third baseman Heather Bergstrom, who threw over Nicole Kamin’s head at first to put runners on second and third with two out. Darrien Roberts cashed in on the opportunity with a two-run single to center to make it 3-0.

“We knew we had to scratch runs together. We weren’t just going to go out and pound the ball,” Cardinals’ coach Greg Hudie said. “That’s what we needed for our team — and for the season — is to learn how to be relentless through seven innings and try to get those runs in.

“McKenna Slough had a clutch hit early on that scored a run and Darrien Roberts hit a low, outside pitch through the infield that scored a few runs. That was a very hard ball to hit, but that was so clutch because we had two runners on and we had two outs. That was huge.”

That was all the scoring for the game, as neither team posed much of a threat the rest of the way.

Sherman pitched a complete game, fanning 15 while giving up just one hit and walking nobody.

“She did the same thing to us last year (in a 2-1 loss),” coach Salo said. “We’re going to lick our wounds a little bit and come right back at it tomorrow, and see if we can put the bat on the ball.

“I think we swung a little bit out of the zone, which is a little uncharacteristic for us, but it’s early in the year and this makes us focus more.”

Salo also went the distance, giving up three runs (one earned) on four hits while punching out 10. Chaillier had Esky’s lone hit.

Coach Salo was very complimentary of the Cardinals, who were the runner-ups in Division 3 last year. He also thought the game could have been different if his team played cleaner defense.

“They’re a favorite to win D-3,” he said. “But if we play clean on defense, we’ve got a 1-0 game and maybe a 0-0 game. We gave them five outs in the one inning.”

Slough finished with two hits and one RBI, and Roberts had one hit and two RBIs.

Hudie was happy with the way his starters got support from the dugout.

“I’m very proud. The girls were awesome, and even the dugout was championship-caliber today,” he said. “They were supporting the girls who were playing out there on the field. The dugout was huge today. It was nice to see them all come together.”

The Eskymos brought back last year’s seniors before the game to unveil their state championship-winning sign in left-center field. Salo didn’t want the loss to take away from that.

“It’s an electric night, and these ladies still have to enjoy the night,” he said. “To bring a title to this small little town, and to put to softball on the map is special. Like I told the ladies, the premier softball games are here this weekend. It’s awesome.”

Both teams return to action in today’s Esky Invitational. The Eskymos face Marshfield, Wis. at 9 a.m. and Gladstone at 11, while Millington faces Gladstone at 9 and Marshfield at 11.

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