Survive and advance

Esky walks off with win in the ninth

Drew Kochanny | Petoskey News Review The Escanaba softball team celebrates its 1-0 win over Muskegon Oakridge in Saturday’s Division 2 regional final at Petoskey. The regional title is Esky’s fifth straight.

PETOSKEY — Gabi Salo might be known for her pitching, but in the biggest game of the season, it was her hitting that helped push Escanaba over the top.

Salo led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, and two batters later pinch-runner Erica Moore scored the game-winning run on an error as Esky captured its fifth straight Division 2 softball regional title in a 1-0 triumph over Muskegon Oakridge.

“That was probably one of the most exciting softball games I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching and being a part of,” Esky coach Gary Salo said.

Moore replaced Salo as a pinch-runner after Salo opened the ninth with a single. Jalin Olson then laid down a bunt single to put runners on first and second, setting the stage for Heather Bergstrom. She hit a hard line drive to the second baseman, who fielded the ball cleanly but threw wild to second base, allowing the ball to get to the outfield as Moore came around to score.

“She (Bergstrom) had good solid contact,” coach Salo said.

“Their second baseman did a good job coming up with the ball, but she tried tagging the runner with the glove and still had the ball in her hand. As soon as the ball went to the outfield I kind of knew there wasn’t going to be a play at the plate.”

Offense was hard to come by throughout, as the teams combined for just eight hits.

“That game was like a 15-round heavyweight fight,” coach Salo said. “You hate to see a team lose when both of them played as well as they did. Whoever made the first mistake was probably going to pay the price.”

Each team had its chances, with the wind playing a role in preventing baserunners.

Esky’s Lexi Chaillier led off the sixth inning with a shot to right field, but the wind knocked the ball down just enough for the Oakridge defender to make a play on it. The defending state champion Eskymos (31-3) still put runners on second and third with one out, but Dakota Cloutier popped out to the pitcher and Salo struck out to end the inning.

Esky then had to survive some nervous moments in the top of the seventh after a deep double to center field put an Oakridge runner on second with two outs. However, Salo was able to strike out the next batter to end the threat.

“The wind hurt us on a few of our fly balls, but it helped us on that one. Thank goodness the wind helped us or it might have gone over the fence. That was their pitcher who hit that; she had a lights out game,” coach Salo said. “The saving part of that is it happened with two outs. We were fortunate the hit came with two outs so we had the opportunity to get the next out to clear the inning.”

Salo pitched all nine innings for the win, striking out 17 while surrendering just two hits and one walk. Nicole Kamin led the offense with two hits.

“We knew Oakridge is as good as they were; they’re ranked fourth in the state,” coach Salo said. “Winning a game like that gives us a little more confidence. Even though we’re state champs, last year doesn’t put a run on the board; these girls have to do that. Pitching and defense held up until we could finally get that run across.”

Esky took down Remus Chippewa Hills 10-0 in six innings in the semifinals.

“We’ve got so many great kids on our team. In our semfinal, we had enough confidence to throw Emily Moore as a freshman; hats off to her and Lizzy Sliva (bullpen catcher),” coach Salo said. “To be able to pull Gabi off the mound for an inning and give her that extra 20 minutes of rest was great. One of the nice things of the day was to know you can count on a freshman. Lizzy was called up from the jayvee team and had the opportunity to warm her up.”

Esky advances to the state quarterfinals, where it will meet up with Freeland at Central Michigan University Tuesday at 4.

“I believe they have a lefty on the mound that Gladstone faced a couple years back in little league. I’ll see if we can dig out some information on them,” coach Salo said. “With how hard of a game we just had, we’re just happy to move on and the girls are excited for the opportunity in front of them.”