Headed back to regionals

Esky begins state title defense with district title

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press The Escanaba softball team poses with the Division 2 district championship trophy after beating Petoskey 7-1 in the title game Saturday at Escanaba.

ESCANABA — Step one towards a potential state championship repeat has been completed. It didn’t come without some resistance though.

After Petoskey pulled within 3-1 in the top of the fourth inning, Escanaba responded with four runs in the bottom half to pull away for a 7-1 win in a Division 2 district softball championship game here Saturday.

The defending state champion Eskymos (29-3) came out focused, putting up three runs in the first inning on RBI hits by Dakota Cloutier and McKenna Bullen.

But Northmen pitcher Aurora Sears kept Esky in check for the next couple innings, and Petoskey’s offense started coming to life in the top of the fourth.

Sears singled to right to start the inning, then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Arianna Phillips, and an error put her on third. Gillian Howard then bunted her home for an RBI single to get a run on the board off Esky ace pitcher Gabi Salo.

However, as champions do, the Eskymos didn’t allow that momentum to last for long.

Maddy Block singled to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Carsyn Segorski then drew a walk, and Lexi Chaillier hit a deep fly ball to left field to reach base on an error to load the bases with nobody out. Nicole Kamin stepped to the plate and belted the first pitch to center for a two-run double. Back-to-back RBIs by Cloutier and Salo pushed the lead to 7-1 at the end of the frame.

“We had that one sloppy inning that we’ll take a look at with the girls, and make some corrections on. But the girls responded right after that inning. Offensively, we got that back,” Esky coach Gary Salo said.

Neither team mounted much of a threat the rest of the way, as Esky advanced to the regional semifinals against Big Rapids next Saturday in Petoskey.

“It’s always nice to play at home,” coach Salo said.

“Any time you have to play back-to-back games it’s a little bit harder. The weather was great, so I don’t have any complaints about that. I think we went a full seven (innings) in both. 14 innings of softball is great — it gets you ready for that next round.”

Salo earned the complete game win, surrendering one run on two hits while striking out 11 and walking one. Kamin had a big day offensively with three RBIs. Cloutier added two hits and Chaillier scored twice.

Sears took the loss for the Northmen, surrendering seven runs (three earned) on seven hits while fanning eight and walking seven through six innings. She also collected a hit and scored a run, while Howard had a hit and an RBI.

The Eskymos defeated Kingsford 6-0 in the semifinals and Petoskey upended Sault Ste. Marie 10-2.

Coach Salo talked about how the adversity the Northmen provided can be beneficial going forward.

“It’s great .. there’s a difference. We scheduled the girls the most difficult schedule we could find, no doubt about that. But the playoffs are just a totally different mentality,” he said. “You know that you’re a bad inning away from going home. We know to clean things up and learn from it, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

If Esky gets past Big Rapids Saturday, it’ll meet the winner of Cadillac and Muskegon Oakridge in the regional final.

Coach Salo says the Eskymos are looking forward to the opportunity.

“I think we got that draw again in terms of, if you win that first one, you got to play again right after,” he said. “But that’s fine. This team’s built to do that, and we’re looking forward to next weekend.”