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Nerves get better of Gremlins softball as season comes to end

GLADSTONE — For the Houghton Gremlins softball team, simply getting to the regional tournament was a big step. It was the farthest the program had ever been. Unfortunately, according to their coach, Mel Baker, their nerves got the best of them in a 9-2 loss to the Grayling Vikings Saturday in a semifinal game in Gladstone.

“Yeah, it was good experience,” she said. “We were a bundle of nerves, that’s for sure.”

A combination of errors and walks issued by pitcher Stella Soumis helped the Vikings spot a 7-0 lead after just one inning of play.

“I think we had maybe four errors in the first inning,” Baker said. “And then they scored, I don’t know, maybe six or seven runs that first inning. Yeah, maybe not that much, but it felt like a lot.

It took the Gremlins a couple more innings before they finally settled into the game.

“Finally, we got into our groove in about the fourth inning, and it was a little bit too late,” said Baker. “They were too good of a team to let them get up on us that high.”

Baker felt that the Vikings, who had been in the regional tournament a year ago, showed that experience from the opening pitch.

“Yeah, they were here last year,” she said. “They came ready to play, and we came scared.”

The weather did not make things any easier, as a light rain settled in and the wind gust were enough to blow leaves around.

After that first inning, Soumis seemed to settle in in the pitcher’s circle, which helped the rest of the team calm down. She finished her day with three strikeouts, three walks and 11 hits given up over six innings.

“So I don’t think the weather bothered us,” Baker said. “The ball was wet a little bit for Stella, but I think that would be an excuse. I think nerves and in her own head was the other thing. She walked a couple more people than she normally would.”

Baker felt that, while things on the field did not her team’s way, getting there was a big step for her group.

“It was a good experience for everyone, though,” she said, “a learning experience. That’s the biggest thing. We have never had this experience, just coming down here, getting the feel and seeing how it was all put together. I mean, Gladstone has an awesome facility down here with running toilets, and just that experience and the memories made is a win for us.

“Obviously, we would have liked to hit up the championship game and have our try at Gladstone, but I think just that experience in itself was a winning thing for us.”

Trailing 9-0 in the top of the sixth, the Gremlins, who finished the season 23-10, finally broke through offensively. It all started with a lead off double by shortstop Clea Ollanketo to left field on the second pitch she saw in the at-bat.

Left fielder Romi Mattson followed with a triple past third, scoring Ollanketo. Center fielder Kenzie Collard then grounded out, but Mattson was able to score on the play.

The Vikings responded to those two runs by shutting down Soumis and first baseman Brynn Arko with ground outs to end the inning.

Getting some hits from seniors like Ollanketo proved that Houghton could string some offense together.

“I think the fifth inning, I had a couple of seniors put together a couple hits,” said Baker. “Those little hits, I think, told the rest of the team, ‘Hey, we can hit the ball.’ Then the next ending, we went out and we were able to string a few more together. We ended up pulling out of that inning and then scoring a few more runs.”

GETTING TO REGIONALS

While at the end of the day, the results were not what the Gremlins wanted, the experience of getting to the regional tournament spoke volumes for them.

“It has come pretty far,” Baker said. “We started out probably when I started 10-12 years ago, it was, let’s get that ninth player or like 10 players just to join the team, get this girl to come on the team, and she had never played softball before.

“Now we’re to the stage where the six seniors, when they came in as freshmen, they all knew the game of softball. They had been playing travel league for a portion of their childhood. That I have to give credit to the parents for, and the local travel team for, building, helping to build. That’s the reason we came down here, because prior to high school, what these girls had gone through, and learned, and their tournaments that they had gone to.”

CHALLENGING FRESHMEN

When the seniors, whose season ended Saturday, were freshmen, Baker challenged them to win a district championship in their career. This season, they did just that.

“As freshmen, I knew these seniors had more talent than I’ve ever seen in freshmen before,” she said. “I had challenged them to win the districts at our end of the year banquet of their freshman year. They were like, ‘Coach, we actually did it. We didn’t think we would, but we got your challenge.’ So, that was kind of cute. That’s how we ended. Our team talk today was that they had accepted my challenge as freshmen, and were ending as our last game as seniors.

“I was like, ‘Maybe I should have said regional champions,’ but it’s just a joke.”

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