Competitive drive fuels Grego-Baker

Paul Peterson photo Mel Grego-Baker of Mattila Rock and Dock delivers a pitch in a recent CCSWL game in Chassell. The former Houghton High athlete has been a team leader all season.

HOUGHTON — Opponents may have underestimated Mel Grego-Baker on some occasions in the past.

But that certainly hasn’t been the case in quite a while for the former Houghton High product, who stands just 5-foot-1.

HHS girls basketball coach Julie Filpus, who coached Grego-Baker for three seasons, said her former player was never fazed by taller opponents.

“No, she didn’t let any size difference make a difference,” Filpus said. “She was always a fierce competitor.”

Grego-Baker is now one of the key players on the Mattla Rock and Dock women’s softball team in the Copper Country Women’s Softball League.

Mattila R&D coach Diane Mattila said Mel is counted on to do a number of things for her team.

“She’s our best pitcher, no question about that,” Mattila noted. “But she’s also one of our top hitters. She’s a great example for our team.”

In her high school days, Grego-Baker was part of a one-two basketball combination for the Gremlins between 2001 and 2004.

She was the short part of the combo, with 6-foot-1 center Sveta Kovalenko the larger part of the equation.

Kovalenko and Grego-Baker led the Houghton cagers to three consecutive West-PAC titles and three district tournament crowns.

But the Gremlins ran afoul of powerful Westwood and St. Ignace teams in the Class C regionals.

Westwood was led by all-stater and future Michigan Tech standout Sarah Stream. St. Ignace featured future University of Michigan player Krista Clement.

Kovalenko also gained All-State honors and played at Division I Marquette.

After graduating from HHS, Mel attended Northland College in Duluth and played softball and basketball for the Lumber Jills.

Longtime CCWSL player and officer Millie Pyorala said players like Grego-Baker are very important to the well-being of the league.

“She encourages the younger kids to get involved in the sport,” Pyorala. “That keeps the league healthy.”

“In the past, we had older players like Dorthey Behrend and myself in Chassell; and Sue O’Connell, Maureen Schick and Helen Corey at Nutini’s to keep the kids interested.”

Filpus said her former player, who was Houghton’s softball coach for several years, always brings enthusiasm to whatever she does.

“That’s just the kind of person she is,” Filpus commented. “She always gives it her all.”

Mel, who had her first child this past spring, is employed as a third grade teacher at the Houghton Elementary School.