Salo wins State Player of the Year

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press Escanaba’s Gabi Salo stands with her trophy after being named the 2019 Total Softball Michigan High School Softball Player of the Year after Saturday’s championship game in East Lansing. Salo finished with 351 strikeouts and a 0.26 ERA this season.

EAST LANSING — It wasn’t long after she had just received another state championship medal that Gabi Salo found out she wasn’t done receiving awards for the day.

Moments after the Escanaba softball team was presented with its second straight Division 2 state championship trophy, the Esky junior pitcher was notified she had won the 2019 Total Softball Michigan High School Softball Player of the Year Award.

Salo beat out L’Anse Creuse’s Brooke Nadolny, Eaton Rapids’ Grace Lehto and Richland Gull Lake’s Lauren Esman for the award.

“It’s awesome,” Salo said. “I went up against some amazing players. There were four of us in the race for it at the end and they’re all great players. To win it as a junior is very exciting.”

Fittingly so, Salo dominated with 11 strikeouts in the 7-3 title game victory over Stevensville Lakeshore. She finished the season with 351 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.26. Her fastball is overpowering, making her change-up nearly unhittable when batters have to be weary of the fastball.

“You know, you look at her stats, and they’re mind-boggling,” Esky coach and father Gary Salo said. “She’s just been a stud for us. Me being her dad, I don’t like to talk her up a whole lot — I let other people do that — but she’s taken care of business for us for three years now. And there’s nobody that works harder. I’ve lived out a dream watching her play as well as she has.”

Salo — a University of Wisconsin commit — credits a lot of her success to pitching coach Pat Brower.

“I pitch with Pat Brower, and he’s like a saint,” she said. “He’s helped me in every single way. I went and pitched with him yesterday, and he has helped me get here.”

As her dad, coach Salo sees the difference Brower makes.

“He’s not only technically the best pitching coach I’ve seen, he just gets that extra little bit out of her,” he said. “He just sees that, and he just gets it.”

Salo also expressed how valuable her teammates are.

“The defense is always solid behind me,” she said. “They’re the ones who make me look so good and they don’t get enough credit — same with catchers. Dakota (Cloutier) doesn’t get as much as credit as she should get.”

Cloutier talked about the relationship the two of them have, and what it’s like catching for a pitcher who throws that hard.

“I like catching for her because I know where she’s going to throw it. I love catching for her because she’s one of my best friends. We’re like the dynamic duo out there,” Cloutier said.

“Sometimes (it makes things tougher) because I have to go down and block pitches when runners are in scoring position. I’ve just learned I’ve got to watch it all the way to my glove.”

Salo — who was also a finalist for the award a year ago as a sophomore — wanted to thank her father and everyone that’s helped her in her softball journey.

“I want to thank my dad,” she said. “He’s sat on the bucket for many hours, taking way too many off the shins and knees and everything. My whole family, they’re the ones that drive me all over the country to play softball, so thank you.”