ESCANABA - The Escanaba Junior League All-Stars (age 13-14) may have gotten more of a fight than they bargained for when L'Anse-Baraga came to Lemerand Field Friday night for a Junior girls (age 13-14) Little League sectional.
But the Esky All-Stars just needed a few innings to warm up before securing a doubleheader sweep with a 10-2 victory in the nightcap. Esky won the opener 11-1 and will advance to the Junior girls state tournament in Indian River, beginning Friday.
The L'Anse-Baraga girls were no-hit in the first game as Esky ace Hannah Edington stymied them from the mound, striking out eight and walking two. L'Anse-Baraga also committed eight errors in that game contributing to the final margin. Escanaba led 5-0 and never looked back.
L'Anse-Baraga first baseman Casey Mleko leaps and bends backward to make a grab on a fly ball hit by Escanaba's Taylor Gauthier, during the first inning Friday during a Junior Little League sectional at Lemerand Field in Escanaba. (Daily Press photo by Keith Shelton)
The nightcap was a different story.
L'Anse-Baraga set the tone early with two nice grabs on fly balls, one by right fielder Erika Tollefson and one by first baseman Casey Mleko. Esky went on to be blanked through the first four innings and had just two hits.
"Those catches set the stage for the game," said L'Anse-Baraga assistant manager Doug Mills. "They made some plays in the field. In the first game we didn't. If we would have, we could have stayed in there."
L'Anse-Baraga, meanwhile, ended any notion of a second straight no-hitter early when Sarah Dix found daylight in the first. Dix was then put out trying to steal second.
The game remained scoreless through two innings, but L'Anse-Baraga ripped three hits off Edington. In the third, thanks in part to an Esky miscue, L'Anse-Baraga got the timely hit it needed.
Lauren Gabe led off, reaching first on an error. She stole second and advanced to third on a groundout from Dix. Mleko's two-out single drove in Gabe for a 1-0 lead. Bailey Froberg followed with another single but Harlee Froberg flew out to end the threat.
The slim lead stood for an inning as Escanaba went 1-2-3 in the top of the fourth. L'Anse then got a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the inning, before Carsyn Osterman was thrown out running to first on a fielder's choice by Ashtin Lindeman.
"They were sharp," said Mills. "They've been practicing hard for about a month and we're proud.
"A lot of the times we come down here it takes a while for us to get started. It's a long day, but we left early and tried to get them focused on the game. They came out in the second game and fought hard."
Escanaba's bats finally woke in the fifth inning. Early in the inning, L'Anse-Baraga made a nice play on a fielder's choice, throwing Heather Bergstom out at home. However, the runner at third - Claire McInerny, later scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 1-1. Escanaba added four more runs in the inning on a groundout from Taylor Gauthier, a single from Edington and a two-run error off the bat of Cassie Wisler.
"We came in a little flat in that second game, but they took care of it," said Escanaba manager Vince Hiney. "It got a little hairy, but they started getting the bats going again. They rallied back and took it, and that shows they can get behind a little bit and not panic."
L'Anse kept it a game until late, adding another run in the bottom of the sixth on a bit of an unusual play. Maegan Kraft hit a fly ball that initially appeared foul. Kraft didn't run at first, then realizing it was fair, bolted for first base as the Esky fielders were slow to realize. Seizing the opportunity, Kraft dashed to second and eventually scored on a double from Lindeman.
Esky however, finally wearing down Kraft, who put forth a solid effort on the mound, put the game out of reach in the seventh.
Highlighted by Maddy Griffin's two-RBI triple, Esky put up five runs on the inning.
L'Anse-Baraga put forth one final effort in the seventh, getting a runner to third, but Dix was thrown out at home on a double hit by Bailey Froberg.
For Mills, the game was in part, validation that the L'Anse-Baraga program is getting closer.
"We were looking forward to coming down here," he said. "Escanaba is a tough team and they have some great players. A lot of us follow them as they go downstate or if they make it to the World Series. We're trying to get to that level with our program.
"We have a high school program now and that's what we're shooting for. We're looking forward to next season."