GLADSTONE - When a team gets to its 10th district title in a row, how do one separate them? Does one stick out above the rest? For Gladstone, this one may hold extra meaning. After years of bargaining with the MHSAA, Gladstone was finally designated as the host team for the Division 3 district, and the Braves made the most of it with a 13-0 victory over Houghton in the title game Friday.
"This is the first time we've had hopes of having a district here, and we got one and it feels good to have it," said Gladstone manager Gerry Smith. "For so long, we were denied because we don't have baseball and the MHSAA said you have to have both baseball and softball to host one, but they finally made an exception."
The Braves were as dominant as they've been all season as starting pitcher Christine Sharon, after getting the complete game victory in a 8-0 shut out of Negaunee, pitched three perfect innings in the title game, striking out six of the nine batters she faced. Alison Austin pitched the fourth and fifth innings with only one Gremlin getting on base via an error. She struck out one.
"This feels really good," said Sharon. "Just the fact that it's districts makes it feel that much better. I didn't expect (the perfect innings) at all."
Smith said it was the plan all along to get Austin time in the title game, even if that meant disrupting a perfect game.
"Tina did a super job, but I've done it before (taking her out in the midst of a no-hitter). She's a team player and she never gripes. She knew in the pregame that we were going to switch and she never complained. The only thing she got mad at was when I pulled her off of baserunning. I told her sorry, but you're not going to run."
Katie Becker and Nicole Sharon each had three hits, as Sharon had two doubles and Becker had one. In the bottom of the fourth inning, with Gladstone ahead 11-0, Jordan Schwartz belted a two-run homer to go with her earlier double.
"I guess it kind of makes it special," said Becker of winning a district title at home. "It was nice to get it here. We know it's not going to be easy from here."
The Braves jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning. Houghton tightened up from there and was able to stretch the game to five innings. Gremlins manager Cathy Aten said that, in itself, was almost a moral victory.
"Gladstone is just awesome. They're so disciplined, so strong mentally and they capitalize on every mistake," she said. "We're very young, so for us to get to five innings is good for us."
Gladstone travels to Charlevoix for the regional tournament next Saturday.
Houghton defeated Manistique 9-3 in the semifinal earlier in the day.
"It was close until the sixth inning. We weren't really hitting well and then the bats came alive. We were much more competitive against Manistique. The girls believed we should have won and were the better team. It was good to see us come back," Aten said.
Houghton pitchers Brooke Sten and Laura Ruohonen struck out 12 Emeralds and scattered four hits, two by Brooke Bontekoe, who will play at Finlandia University. Sten and Jill Keskimaki had two hits for the Gremlins, who snapped a 2-2 draw with seven runs and five hits in the sixth inning.
Southpaw Haley MacGregor was replaced by Kalyssa Jenerou during the sixth inning outburst. "She (MacGregor) didn't have her great stuff today," said Manistique manager Dave McNeil. "Late in the game she struggled with her control and mechanics. I tried to squeeze another inning out of her, but it didn't work out."
Manistique was hitless until the fourth, when Bontekoe ripped a double and Jenerou had an RBI single.