CALUMET - The Calumet softball team got a great crowd and great weather Wednesday for their first Division 3 district playoff game.
Manistique got great pitching.
Emeralds ace Breiann Richey threw harder from the circle than any girl the Copper Kings had seen this season and Calumet's bats never caught up in a 6-0 loss to conclude a successful first season on a bittersweet note.
Calumet second baseman Celia Peterson throws to first after making a play on a ground ball during a Division 3 district quarterfinal against Manistique Wednesday at the Gipp Recreation Area in Laurium. Manistique won 6-0. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Calumet beat Manistique 5-2 earlier in the season, but never faced Richey in that game.
As it turns out, they hadn't faced a pitcher of Richey's caliber all year long.
"Man she threw hard," Calumet coach Luke Peterson said. "When we played them in the Dome we faced their number two and we were able to get to her a little bit more. But (Richey), she is probably the best pitcher we faced this year."
Richey struck out nine over seven innings, walked just two and scattered four hits.
The numbers backed up what the eye saw as the Kings never got comfortable at the plate with Richey, a sophomore, pounding the strike zone with heat and occasionally mixing in a deceptive changeup.
"Basically what ends up happening is you have to try and cheat. You have to get that bat head out," Peterson said. "You have to be expecting to swing and then not swing (if you don't like the pitch). I think early on the girls were going up there trying to swing if it was there, but she's too fast for that. You kind of have to have a backwards approach."
Manistique backed their ace with three runs in the second inning, giving Richey all the breathing room she needed.
Two walks and a hit batter from Calumet starter Morgan Peters put runners on the bases while an outfield error and late cutoff throw allowed two runs to score with two hits in the inning.
Manistique would tack on a run in the third, fourth and sixth innings and total eight hits in all while taking six walks. Richey led the way here too, going 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
"With a pitcher like that you are not going to score a lot of runs so you have to cut down the errors and keep them off the board," Peterson said. "They kind of got to us early there."
Calumet's best chance to score came in the sixth frame after Clara Loukus walked and Selena Stromer rapped an infield single to put runners on second and third with one out.
A pair of groundouts kept the shutout clean though and Richey struck out two more in the seventh frame to put an exclamation point on the win.
"I thought we started to figure her out a bit by the end there but it was a little too late," Peterson said. "Just another learning experience. She is just a talented pitcher."
While it may not have ended the way they wanted it to, the season was still considered a wild success for the Kings.
They split with Houghton for the first ever Copper Country Conference championship and generated some strong momentum to keep the softball program viable and growing.
Peterson said the numbers for Little League have already swelled and should stock the high school program for years to come.
"We have something to build off of," Peterson said. "There are about 18-20 13-14 year olds that have signed up for Little League. We have a good system going there and we are going to keep rolling.
"The Manistique coach (Jessica Nord) actually mentioned what great fan support we had for this game. The team's going in a good direction."