GLADSTONE - With the goal of making a deep postseason run this year, the Gladstone Braves' softball team took its first step towards reaching that goal, as the Braves showed signs of dominance in a four-inning, 16-0 victory over Houghton.
At the plate, Gladstone recorded 14 hits to manufacture the 16 runs, and on the mound, Christine Sharon threw a perfect game and struck out 10 out of the 12 batters she faced.
"We didn't know what to expect from Houghton, because we haven't seen them," Gladstone head coach Ashley Hughes said. "We just needed to come out with our best foot forward and I think our girls did that today. They were focused 100 percent and I think they showed that this afternoon."
Gladstone's Jessica Beaudry slides into home as Houghton's Jessica Schlaff waits for the ball to get to her, during Wednesday's Division 3 district opener in Gladstone. Gladstone won, 16-0. (Daily Press photo by Bryce Derouin)
After Sharon struck out the first three batters she faced, she started off the Braves' rally with a double to lead off the inning. Sadie Strasser bunted Sharon over to second, and Lexi Hongisto knocked in Sharon on an RBI single to give the Braves a 1-0 advantage.
Gladstone would tack on four more runs in the opening inning, to take an early 5-0 lead.
That would be all the runs the Gladstone defense would need, as Sharon struck out the first eight batters she faced, before Houghton's Bekah Goodreau managed to make contact and fly out.
"We haven't," Houghton head coach Melissa Grego said about seeing a pitcher the caliber of Sharon. "In our area, we have a lot of first-year teams, and we haven't seen pitching that quick this year."
With Sharon and catcher Morgan Kowalski playing pitch and catch on defense, the Braves' offense continued to pour it on. Gladstone added three runs in the second and third innings. Then, Hongisto had the biggest highlight for the Braves' offense in the fourth inning. After the Braves had already added three runs in the inning - and with Strasser on base - Hongisto hit a two-run home run to right center field, which made it 16-0 and enforced the mercy rule in effect, ending the game.
"I chatted with the girls yesterday at practice and some of the girls are peaking at the right time coming into districts," Hughes said about the teams' bats. "This just builds their confidence and it makes it easier for them to think they can overcome tough situations when it comes to a tough ball game."
Hongisto, Strasser, and Jessica Beaudry each led the Braves with three RBI's and two hits. Anna Caramella chipped in with two hits, as well.
Despite ending the year on a down note, the Houghton softball team had plenty of positives throughout the season to reflect on.
"Overall, we grew quite a bit throughout the season," Grego said. "We had quite a few girls that were playing for the first time and we definitely made some huge improvements. Through the year, we grew, definitely."
Gladstone will face the winner of Negaunee and Westwood, to decide the district title. Gladstone swept Negaunee 4-0 and 5-2, earlier in the season.
"We came out with a couple of wins, and I don't think we were as sharp as we could have been when we played them earlier in the season," Hughes said about Negaunee. "But the girls have momentum from today and they're hungry for the title, and I think they'll come out strong Friday, too.
"We're blessed with a great group of girls this year, who truly are team players, and they're out here for the right reasons."