Bay College, playing at home for first time, sweeps Finlandia

Austin Hemmingson/Daily Press (Escanaba) Finlandia’s Denia Bent (right) attempts to slide into second base while Bay College shortstop Eve LaFleche (5) looks to turn the double play Tuesday at Escanaba.

WELLS — The Bay College softball team couldn’t have asked for a much better debut in the program’s first-ever home games. The Norse did just about everything right in a sweep of Finlandia here Tuesday afternoon, winning the first contest, 9-1, and the nightcap, 2-0.

Maddy Griffin had a standout day at the plate for the Norse, and pitchers Lexi Winling and Rhiley Hubert combined to give up just three hits in two games.

After the first three Norse batters walked to open the bottom of the first in the first game, Emily Bruntjens came in to score on a passed ball. After Richelle Vandeville struck out, Griffin stepped to the plate and hit a bomb to center field to give the Norse an early 4-0 cushion.

“It was right down the middle and that’s my favorite pitch,” Griffin joked afterwards. “It’s pretty to cool to have that as your first hit in your first home game.”

Then in the third inning Griffin hit a line shot up the middle to score Kaitlyn Hardwick to make it 5-0.

“It was just so nice to see. She’s such a strong hitter, and to see it come out today was really fun,” Norse coach Heidi Charon said.

Finlandia got its lone run of the day on a home run to right center by Denia Brent to cut its deficit to 5-1. Makenna Gorham hit a hard line drive for a base hit in its next at-bat, but she was thrown out stealing by Vandeville and Winling retired the side.

After the Norse tacked on one more in the fourth, Hardwick blasted a home run to center on the first pitch to make it 7-1. The Norse (16-6) added two runs in the bottom of the sixth and the game was called due to an eight-run mercy rule.

“Gosh, was I grateful for that strong start with the hitting. I feel like that gave us the upper hand for the rest of the two games,” Charon said. “To follow through with that strong pitching from Lexi and Rhiley was awesome. It’s pretty exciting — I couldn’t have asked for a better day and better games. I’m pretty happy.

“I feel like we’re a pretty well-matched team, and I was really proud of the girls. They were probably the tightest I’ve seen them defensively all year.

Winling was dominant on the mound, giving up just one run and two hits while striking out three and walking three in six innings of work.

“I tried mixing it up and not throwing the same thing too much,” Winling said. “Basically, I throw low and inside, then high and out. I like to keep hitters off balance with different speeds and different movements on my pitches, and it worked, I guess.”

Winling talked about the excitement of getting the first home win in Norse history.

“Oh, it’s super exciting,” she said. “When I first signed, I said ‘well, if anything else I’m gonna set some records and set some standards.'”

Griffin finished with four RBIs while Hardwick, Eve LaFleche, Emily LaFave and Jerrika McAlpine each added an RBI.

Kassandra Avila and Kyndell Coffman shared duty in the loss for the Lions (7-21).

Griffin provided all the offense in the nightcap. She got the scoring started on a RBI double to right center to plate McAlpine in the first, then singled home Hardwick in the third on another hard hit ball. She finished the game with three hits and two RBIs.

“It was contagious — I just kept seeing it,” Griffin said. “It feels really good to see the familiar faces I played with in high school or my old coaches. It’s really nice to be outside on our own home turf.”

That was all the offense the Norse needed. Hubert dominated on the mound, pitching five innings of one-hit ball. She took a no-hitter into the fifth and struck out seven while walking four.

“First off, I have to thank my team. They played spectacular and our defense was great,” she said. “Today I just felt really great, my warmups were great, and I had fantastic spin on the ball.

“That was the best feeling ever being able to pull off a couple wins against Finlandia. They beat us a couple times last fall and mercied us, so to beat them twice and pitch a shutout on our home field felt so awesome.”

She acknowledged she knew she had a no-hitter going into the fifth.

“I was definitely aware of it. I think it put a lot of pressure on me, but I was able to work through it. It was exciting and a lot of fun.”

Winling came on to pitch the final two innings to seal the deal, giving up no hits while walking two and striking out one.

Bent was also sharp on the mound for the Lions, going seven full innings. She gave up six hits and two runs while striking out eight and not allowing any walks.

Lions’ coach Matthew Farrell talked about her performance, and what went wrong elsewhere.

“She’s an All-American. She’s one of the nation’s top pitchers as far as walks per nine innings — she’s nationally ranked in that category. She didn’t walk anyone again today, and she gives us a chance to win every time she throws.

“We just didn’t bring the bats today — that was pretty obvious. I don’t think we were being aggressive enough at the plate. We were just taking too many pitches and we weren’t adjusting to what they were throwing and what the umpires were calling.

“They had a couple clutch two-out hits and number 20 (Griffin) killed us. She obviously had a great game. That’s the difference. Obviously, timely hitting is huge and they played good defense. We played good defense as well so that would be one of my positives that came out of this game. We were happy with the defense.”

The Norse host Gogebic for a doubleheader Friday, while the Lions vist Bay again for another doubleheader Monday.