Hancock defeats LL-H 9-5 in first local game of the season

Hancock’s Delaney Heinonen slides under the tag attempt of Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Mackenzie LePage Wednesday at the Boneyard in Lake Linden. Hancock won 9-5. (Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette)

LAKE LINDEN — A thick mixture of snow, ice and mud surrounded the Lake Linden softball field. The players on the diamond wore sweatshirts, while coaches and spectators donned hats, coats and gloves. The temperature sat at about 45 degrees, but the sun was out, the field was dry and the sky was devoid of snow clouds. When it comes to spring sports in the Copper Country, that is really all you can ask for. 

“This is our first time outside this season,” Lake Linden-Hubbell coach Jeff Shepeard said. “We tried to get a practice outside yesterday, but it started raining. It’s tough for everybody.”

Hancock came away with a 9-5 victory, Wednesday in Lake Linden, but neither team had a peak performance. As can be expected in a season opener, there were things to iron out and mistakes to be corrected. 

The early season blunders haven’t been helped by the practice conditions, either. Certain things can be recreated indoors, but some aspects of softball simply need an actual field. Neither team was able to do any work outdoors before Wednesday, with drills being done in the gym.  

“The weather has been brutal, and it is not good for softball, Hancock coach Randy Heinonen said. “In the gym, you can do a lot of hitting, a lot of infield drills, but the one thing you don’t get is outfield work, and we struggled with the fly ball today.”

Hancock had five errors in the win and Lake Linden-Hubbell finished with three.

The Bulldogs opened play by putting five runs on the board in the first two innings of play. A series of walks in the first gave them a 2-0 lead, and in the second inning, the Bulldogs started to make contact. Delaney Heinonen, Abby Brooks and Maddie Johnson all recorded RBI singles to give Hancock three more runs.

“We were patient,” coach Heinonen said. “Their pitcher did a great job, she threw strikes and we just had to wait and be patient.When we were patient, we ripped the ball, and when we weren’t we didn’t make good contact.” 

Hancock’s scoring barrage didn’t stop there. After a scoreless third inning, the Bulldogs tacked on four more runs for a 9-0 lead after five innings. 

After an error led to a run in the fourth, Emma Almquist raked the ball over LL-H’s infield for the game’s first extra-base hit. An error, a strikeout and a Sophie Heinonen stolen base later, Jordyn Rowe snuck a single through the infield for two bringing Almquist and Heinonen across home plate. 

While Hancock’s bats were working early, LL-H struggled to get the ball out of the infield. 

Hancock pitcher Delaney Heinonen kept the Lakes swinging — and missing throughout the game. 

She finished with 15 strikeouts while giving up seven hits, five walks and one earned run. 

“She battled,” coach Heinonen said. “She threw more pitches than I would have cared for, but her change-up was working well today. She was maybe, effectively wild, she threw a lot of balls, but not bad for the first time out.

“I think the change-up is one of her better pitches, especially when you mix it with the fastball, or the rise ball, but when you throw it for strikes that makes it really effective, and she threw her change-up for strikes today.”

LL-H finally got on the board in the sixth inning when Mackenzie LePage hit a single to bring Caitlyn Zerbst home. Zerbst walked to open the inning, advanced on an error and then stole third to get herself into scoring position. Then, McKenna Keranen lined a single into left field scoring two more runs. 

“They had much better at-bats, without getting down in the count, Shepeard said. “They were aggressive at the plate.”

The inning pulled LL-H closer, down just four runs, but the Lakes couldn’t battle all the way back from the nine-run deficit. 

LL-H’s pitcher, LePage, finished the game with seven strikeouts, five walks, seven hits and four earned runs.

“She impressed me,” Shepeard said. “She battled through a few mistakes, a few walks early on and she really came through in the end.”

Next, LL-H hosts Calumet at 4 p.m. today in a doubleheader.