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Last of their era: In 1982, Bunkhouse-Pettibone softball team ran to state fastpitch championship

Copper Country Legends

September 6, 2012
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

BARAGA - In many ways, the 1982 Bunkhouse-Pettibone fastpitch softball team represented the end of an era in Copper Country sports.

The B-P squad captured a Class D state championship on Labor Day weekend, putting together an impressive run.

And while an Uphill 41 squad would win a Class E state title seven years later, the B-P feat is somehow remembered more by local fastpitch followers.

Arnie Putala, a key member of the Bunkhouse team, said he has very little recollection of the later title run by Uphill.

"Fastpitch had started to lose popularity by the middle of the 1980s," he said. "The number of teams in the league had been dropping gradually ... you could see it was fading."

The Bunkhouse team, coached by Mike Maki, got hot at just the right time.

"We were a good team, not a sensational one," Maki said recently. "But we put it together at the end of the season."

The team gained a spot in the Class D Regionals - one of 20 teams to make it there.

But in order to advance, they would have to get past a strong Al's-Superior National Bank team twice.

Al's pitcher Jim Butler was the main weapon for the Hubbell-based team, according to Putala.

"We had a a lot of trouble hitting Butler (during the regular season) and in the district tournament," he said. "But we rapped him all over the place in Marquette, scoring nearly 20 runs."

The victories earned the Baraga County team a spot in the state championships, which were held in Lansing to celebrate the 50th aniversary of amateur softball in Michigan.

More than 4,500 players took part in the festivities commemorating the event.

Bunkhouse-Pettibone didn't have a whole lot of history heading into the tourney.

Only one Upper Peninsula team, the 1954 Escanaba Harnischfeger squad, had ever won a state title.

Even the outstanding Bosch Beer squads of the 1950s and 1960s had failed to win downstate, according to Maki.

"That was surprising to me because those Bosch teams were as good any teams we had ever had around here," he said.

The B-P team had to scramble to fill a roster for the event, as well as paying their own way to Lansing.

Shortstop/infielder Steve Ross flew in from a job in Haiti. Outfielder Joe Romano was recruited to play at the last moment and drove down himself. And catcher Dennis Myllyla and second base baseman Alan Kamarainen arrived for the first game with barely two hours to spare.

Myllyla was an assistant coach for the Baraga High football coach and had been at a L'Anse-Baraga game the night before; Kamarainen was coming in from his sister's wedding reception.

Maki, who had won one regional game with a long homer, had sustained a broken hand and was out of action.

But the team rode the hot bat and spectacular pitching of Mike "Nutch" Nordstrom in the state tournament.

Nordstrom won three games and hit four homers in the tourney in winning three individual awards.

"Nutch really had himself a tournament," Maki recalled. "He did it all and he later said that it was the best time he ever had playing softball."

In a 3-2 win over Rexford Farms in the championship game, Nordstrom allowed just five hits.

Putala clouted a homer - his second of the tourney - to supply perhaps the biggest hit.

With Braden Archambeau at third base, Ross at shortstop, Kamarainen at second and Romano at first, the local team had a strong infield. Earl Froberg came out of retirement to play some at first base.

Jim Dompier, Putala and the late Jack Giddings in the outfield were solid. Bill Rolof was another player who saw time in the outfield.

Myllyla was a clutch hitter who did most of the catching, although Doug Isaacson also got his time behind the dish.

Jerry Alatalo and Froberg also did some hurling for B-P, although Nordstrom was the workhorse in the championship run.

Fastpitch would begin to falter even more after Uphill 41's success. The local league would cease operation in the mid-1990s because of a lack of players and pitchers.

"Pitching was always the key in fastpitch," longtime Hancock player/coach Gordy Schaaf said. "When that part of the game died ... the game died. "

 
 

 

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