Kamin’s home run lifts Eskymos late

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press The Escanaba softball team celebrates its 2-1 win over North Branch in the Division 2 state semifinals at Michigan State University Thursday in East Lansing.

EAST LANSING — For a brief moment, it appeared the Escanaba softball team was in trouble. Then Nicole Kamin happened.

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Kamin stepped to the plate and smacked a two-run home run over the fence in center field to give the Eskymos the lead and they held on to upend North Branch 2-1 here Thursday in a Division 2 state semifinal.

The victory sends Esky back to the state title game Saturday at 10 a.m. against Stevensville Lakeshore. Lakeshore triumphed 8-1 over Eaton Rapids in the day’s first semifinal.

Before Kamin’s home run, a controversial call was the story of the inning. After Maddy Block flew out to center to start the frame, Carsyn Segorski singled to left and advanced to second on an error by Broncos’ left fielder Kira DeOrnellas. Lexi Chaillier then followed with a ground ball to shortstop, and Segorski got caught in a pickle before diving back safely into second base.

But after the play, the umpires got together and called Segorski out for baserunner interference, leaving Esky with a runner on first and two outs. That set the stage for Kamin, who unloaded on her first home run of the season.

“My goal when Carsyn was on second and Lexi was on first was just to get a base hit and move the runners,” Kamin said. “And then they called Carsyn out, and that made me a little mad. Coach (Salo) just said, ‘well, now we have to win twice.’ So I was still looking for a base hit and I connected with it and it just went.”

With all the excitement in the dugout, Esky (33-3) still had to finish the job in the seventh. North Branch’s Autumn Deshetsky reached on an error to begin the inning. After Reese Ruhlman grounded into a fielder’s choice, Clare Westphal hit a grounder to shortstop and reached on a throwing error to put runners at second and third with one out.

But as she’s done all season, Gabi Salo pitched out of a jam by getting Madison Taylor to lineout to second base and Emily Ludescher went down swinging to end the game.

“We battled, we battled, we battled,” Esky coach Gary Salo said. “Nicole’s a basketball player .. she’s just an athletic kid who finds a way. She dropped her hands and dropped her shoulders and just found a way to the middle of that ball.”

North Branch (29-10) struck first in the fourth inning on an RBI double to center by Ruhlman after Deshetsky reached on a line drive to first base off the glove of Kamin.

“To be honest, when we got that first run in today I thought that was good enough,” Broncos’ coach Alyssa Welling said. “Especially against that pitcher (Salo). Looking at all the games she’s thrown this year, not many teams have scored. She’s the fastest we’ve seen. Going into that seventh inning with two of my seniors that had already gotten hits coming up, I thought if we had a chance this was it. They did what they needed to do to get on base; unfortunately, we just couldn’t close it.”

Coach Salo thought the experience of being at Michigan State the previous four years helped his team stay calm in the pressure moments.

“I told all these ladies when we got off the bus that we’re the only team that’s here for the fourth year in a row,” he said. “The kids bought into it. I said, ‘let’s play our best game.’ And we haven’t played our best game yet – that’s a scary thought. To get to a state championship game without playing our best ball .. that just puts a smile on your face.”

Salo earned the complete game win, surrendering just one run (zero earned) on two hits while striking out 14. Kamin finished with a hit and two RBIs.

Maeson Schlaud took the loss for the Broncos, allowing two runs on three hits while fanning eight over seven innings.

Salo talked about pitching out an intense jam in the seventh, and what it means going forward to Saturday’s championship game.

“I think this has to be the most intense jam I’ve ever pitched out of. One base hit could have sent us home so I knew I had to throw my best pitches,” she said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year .. a lot of different things have happened. Our team chemistry is really good. Being close as a team really helps bring us together.”