Esky softball returning to full strength. And the timing couldn’t be better

Escanaba junior Maddy Mott delivers a pitch during a Great Northern Conference doubleheader on May 8, 2024 at Abrahamson Field in Escanaba. (“The Big Dog” Mitch Vosburg/Daily Press)

ESCANABA –Once you think you have all the answers, life changes the question.

It’s a situation Escanaba softball faced less than a month ago.

The Eskymos were fresh off a sweep of three games in Muskegon on April 13. A 16-3 win over Spring Lake, a 9-2 win over Wayland and a 1-0 8-inning win, featuring a complete game, one-hit shutout with 17 strikeouts from pitcher Grayson LaMarche, gave the Eskymos a 3-0 start to their 2024 season. Everything pointed toward the orange and black staying red hot.

Until their next games which fell 10 days after their success downstate. Lamarche was forced to temporarily leave the team due to an illness. The Eskymos had one practice to prepare for Negaunee without its All-State pitcher, who committed to national powerhouse Michigan while the Eskymos were in the thick of basketball season.

On a frigid, windy Wednesday afternoon at Abrahamson Field in Escanaba, the Eskymos, who’ve claimed two state championships in the last six seasons, were swept by the Miners, falling 5-1 and 12-8.

“It’s my job to prepare this team and get them ready. I don’t know that we were totally ready today. I’ll take that on the chin,” Esky skipper Andy Fields said after being swept on April 23. “I’m not taking anything away from Negaunee. They’re a really well coached team. They played really well. When you lose someone like Grayson (Lamarche) for a period of time we’re going to lose her for you kind of have to re-find yourself. You got to have a new identity. We have to find our new identity, and that’s going to take a little time.

“We have a lot of good athletes here. It’s going to take a little time.”

It did take a little time. But it was a little time, not a long time. After swallowing the pair of losses the Eskymos went right back two work. After two high energy and highly productive practices the orange and black got back on track.

Since the doubleheader loss to the Miners Esky has won 10 of its last 12 games. Its only blemishes in that stretch were a 12-3 loss to reigning Division 1 state semifinalist Lake Orion and a 5-4 loss to Three Rivers, who stands at 19-5 before its trio of clashes this weekend.

Oh, and the Eskymos have outscored opponents 104-21 in the 12-game stretch.

“We’ve changed our approach a little bit,” Fields said. “Some of the girls were being I think too selective a couple of weeks ago. It’s one of those deals where I want them up there every pitch ready to hit some laser beams, and we’re starting to do that.”

But discussing the Eskymos’ surge isn’t complete with the young lady who’s assumed duties in the circle: junior Maddy Mott.

She started the first game against Negaunee on April 23. Outside of two pitches and a deep fly ball which caught a wind over 20 M.P.H. blowing everything out of left field, she have Esky a chance to win. She was charged with five earned runs off seven hits with four walks and eight strikeouts in seven innings of work while also driving in Esky’s lone run.

But since that bone-chillingly cold day, Mott has caught fire from inside the circle. In all honesty, you could call it the ring of fire whenever she has her right foot on the rubber and the ball in her right hand.

The junior has allowed eight runs (six earned) off 21 hits with 11 walks and 41 strikeouts in her last 34 innings of work. Only Three Rivers mustered more than two runs off her. She’s hurled three shutouts of five or more innings, including six inning shutouts against North Branch and Anchor Bay on April 27. She tossed a three-inning perfect game with six strikeouts against Menominee on May 1. She tossed a no-hitter across five innings of work in a 13-0 win over Kingsford on Wednesday. She has not allowed a hit in her last 10 innings of work against Great Northern Conference opponents.

Mix that with a lineup that’s beginning to produce from the No. 1 spot to the No. 9 hole and you have a team that’s grabbed adversity by the horns, slammed it to the ground and tied its hooves.

“The confidence is coming,” Fields said after a sweep of Menominee on May 1. “And with the confidence comes the hits, comes the good pitching, the good fielding. It all starts coming together. All these girls have each other’s backs. It’s a great feeling as a coach to sit back and watch this.”

With Esky riding its incredible high entering its weekend action Lowell, the rich will get richer. After missing 12-straight games Lamarche will be back in uniform this weekend as the Eskymos collide with Lakewood, Lowell and Rockford on Saturday.

For the first time in 28 days, the Eskymos will be at full strength.

“I expect to play well down there,” Fields said. “It’ll be a nice test for us. I expect our bats and everything to really start coming together here in the next two weekends.”

Lamarche was close to playing in the Eskymos’ doubleheader against the Flivvers on Wednesday, but her return will come against Division 1 foes on Saturday.

“We’ll see how she holds up. The stamina is what we need to get back,” Fields said of LaMarche. “She has the spin, and she’s back to her speed now. It’s just about getting her to be able to (pitch the) longevity of the game.”


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