Column – Area teams dominate on the diamond

Austin Hemmingson

ESCANABA — Well, that was one busy weekend of dominance by local softball and baseball teams.

Starting Friday, Bark River-Harris won its first softball district title in school history, Gladstone won its 17th straight district title, and Escanaba just casually took care of Petoskey for the fifth year in a row in the district final to begin its state title defense.

In baseball, Gladstone shut out Iron Mountain 7-0 for another district championship. Even a couple area teams that didn’t wrap up a district crown — Escanaba and Bark River-Harris — still made the championship game.

The Gladstone boys’ track team also notched its first U.P. title in five years by winning Saturday’s U.P. Finals by an impressive 30 points.

But for the purposes of this column, I’m just going to focus on local dominance on the diamond.

For those of you that don’t know, I’m still relatively new to the area, having just moved here from Alpena last October to take over the sports editor position so Denny Grall could retire — again.

Maybe I have a deeper appreciation for what I’m seeing than most because I’m not used to this level of dominance in these sports.

When I first moved, I didn’t realize how seriously people took sports up here. There’s a reason people from the U.P. have a chip on their shoulder — not many from the lower peninsula realize or acknowledge the excellence that goes on north of the Mackinac Bridge.

I’m not saying I completely fell in that trap, but I’ll admit I didn’t expect sports to be this big of a deal here, especially softball and baseball.

For starters, I can’t be the only one who would be surprised that Delta County teams ranging from Rapid River to Bark River-Harris would be so dominant at a warm weather sport in such a cold climate. U.P. springs are not like springs in Wisconsin, or even south of the bridge. They’re cold, wet, frigid and sometimes the snow hasn’t fully melted until May.

It amazes me how these area schools have built programs where the kids put in this much dedication to a spring sport. I could totally see it if it was about a winter sport. After all, the stereotype downstate is all the U.P. cares about is hockey.

Maybe it’s just a Delta County thing. With all due respect to other programs in the U.P., when teams come here to play Escanaba and Gladstone in softball and baseball, it’s usually not competitive.

University of Wisconsin commit Gabi Salo takes turns no-hitting every other opponent she faces for Esky softball, Gladstone softball has been so dominant in Division 3 that it drew a forfeit in Saturday’s district semifinal, and Gladstone baseball went 11-0 in the first year of Great Northern Conference baseball.

Area coaches have emphasized to me they schedule harder competition in Wisconsin and downstate to prepare themselves for the postseason. This week, Gladstone baseball and softball, BR-H softball and Esky softball will all compete in regionals.

To make things even better, Bay College began softball and baseball programs this past year. What we have now is basically Delta County all-star teams forming at Bay after high school graduation. It seems like every other day there is a new local kid signing for one of the Norse programs.

This spring, the Bay softball team went 28-9 and advanced to the Region 13 championship game before falling to Dawson Community College in Montana. Three Norse were selected to the All-Region team in softball, and one in baseball. All four were from Delta County.

The baseball team still had a decent season, it just couldn’t overcome a Dakota County program that has been rolling for a while now.

With all that being said, good luck to all the area teams this week. I have a deep appreciation for what I’m seeing.