Surprising split

Houghton upsets L’Anse to earn 1st conference win; L’Anse wins finale

Daver Karnosky/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton's Josie Connors readies to deliver a pitch during the second game of a doubleheader with L'Anse Wednesday at Aura Field. Houghton and L’Anse split.

AURA — It has been a while since the Houghton Gremlins softball has seen the positive end of a scoreboard. The Gremlins opened their season with two wins in their first three games, but had not won since.

That changed Wednesday evening in Aura.

Using a three-run first inning, the Gremlins stunned those who had gathered around Aura Field as they earned a 13-2 victory over the L’Anse Purple Hornets.

The disbelief on the faces of the coaching staff of the Purple Hornets was still evident after the Hornets won the nightcap, 11-7, to earn the split.

“We are very, very disappointed in our team,” said Purple Hornets manager Janet Rossi. “They didn’t come to play. They couldn’t hit. They made many errors.”

Name an area of the game of softball and the Gremlins had struggled in it all season long, including in a pair of losses Monday against the Baraga Vikings.

It made sense, in a way, that the Purple Hornets entered Wednesday assuming they had the doubleheader before the first pitch was thrown.

“They jumped on us and they never looked back,” said Purple Hornets coach Doug Mills.  “Houghton took it to us on all the fundamentals.”

First-year manager Rosalie Anderson knew what was at stake after her Gremlins lost 21-12 and 10-9 to the Vikings on Monday, and she addressed her team’s many faults during a practice on Tuesday.

“We talked about in practice, if they want to turn their season around, what kinds of things they were going to have to do and just be more aggressive and playing with what we call heart,” said Anderson. “They really had to figure out what that was.”

The fruits of that labor were clear in the opener, as Houghton showed patience at the plate. Playing a form of what is often referred to as “small ball,” the Gremlins scored three runs in the first inning and added two more in the second to jump out to an early 5-0 lead.

Anderson was pleased with the fact that the Gremlins were able to bunt, hit and run effectively throughout the opener.

“We worked a lot of batting [Tuesday],” said Anderson. “We haven’t been hitting to our full potential. [Tuesday], we ran through a few drills that I think helped a lot. The girls were much more confident in the box.”

The Gremlins got to Purple Hornets starter Maegan Kraft, a senior, right from the lead-off hitter, Josie Connors, and never appeared intimidated by the Hornets’ ace. By the time the game ended, Kraft had thrown 106 pitches, struck out five and surrendered seven earned runs.

Cassidy Becia and Andra Campbell led the way offensively for the Gremlins with three RBI each.

More importantly, the Gremlins found their ace in Connors, a freshman. Connors earned the win by throwing 85 pitches over six innings and striking out four while only walking one.

“We had a phenomenal effort on the mound from Josie,” said Anderson. “She was hitting her spots. She was keeping them off-balance.”

Connor attacked L’Anse’s hitters, throwing 18 first-pitch strikes, and that helped give her the confidence to keep the pressure on.

The lone bright spot for the Purple Hornets in the opener was Lauren Gabe. Gabe went 0-for-2, but managed to earn both RBI when her drive to left field in the top of the fifth fell out of the glove of Ally Ronis.

“She’s been phenomenal,” said Mills. “She’s leading the team in RBIs and hitting, doing all the fundamentals right. We need some more contributions from some key players.”

Gabe continued her hot hand in the nightcap, as she went 3-for-3 with a walk and three RBI to drive the L’Anse offense.

Josie Rice came in to handle the second game on the mound for the Purple Hornets, and she pitched a strong game, racking up seven strikeouts while only dealing two walks in seven innings.

With the Gremlins having jumped out to a 4-0 lead after 1 ½ innings, L’Anse’s offense finally showed signs of life when Erika Tollefson locked horns with Connors in a classic duel. With the bases loaded, Tollefson fouled off the first four pitches she saw from Connors before watching two high pitches. She then fouled off two more pitches before singling to left field to score Haley Nankervis and Kaitlyn Voskuhl.

From there, the Hornets added four more runs in the inning to jump ahead 6-4.

Trailing 7-5 going into the bottom of the fourth, Anderson pulled Connors in favor of Malone Jepsen. The sophomore, who had never pitched before this season, did a commendable job over the final three innings to hold the Purple Hornets to just three more earned runs over that stretch.

The Purple Hornets return to action tonight when they face the Jeffers Jets.