Champ's Strong Finish Keys Escanaba Run

May 31, 2018

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ESCANABA – Two past Upper Peninsula golf champions went head-to-head here Thursday, and as play stopped for a heavy downpour, the momentum made a tremendous switch after play resumed to help decide the issue.

Junior Paxton Johnson of Escanaba used the 30-minute rain delay to turn her fortunes around and claim her third straight Division 1 championship, which helped the Eskymos capture their third straight team title with a 381.

Meanwhile, the delay stopped Kaaren Liston's building momentum and basically ended the Houghton senior's charge. The Gremlins finished second at 390, a stroke ahead of Menominee.

Johnson, playing at her home Escanaba Country Club course, parred the front nine and finished with an 80. Liston, who won the Division 1 title as a freshman in 2015, shot 85 to tie Escanaba's Megan Dagenais for the runner-up score.

Home course advantage was an obvious benefit for Johnson, who lives adjacent to the fourth green and plays ECC much more often than frequently. Liston's advantage was her tremendous length of the tee, many times landing 40-50 yards beyond Johnson, who also has impressive distance.

"I didn't pay attention to how far ahead she was," said Johnson, who concentrated on playing her game and the course. "My game plan was to hit the green in regulation and make some putts. I was pretty comfortable out there."

"She basically knows where she can get into trouble and has a general idea what club to hit into each hole," said Liston, who said her extra length "kind of equals that out there somewhat."

Johnson, a southpaw who won the ECC women's championship last year, downplayed her home advantage. "Most holes here are pretty straight forward, but you have to know where to hit the ball on the greens. I don't think having knowledge of the course is that big of an advantage," she concluded.

The big advantage for Johnson came down to short-game execution. She was pretty steady all day while Liston had numerous errors on approach shots or with the putter. "I got myself in a little trouble not hitting the greens," she agreed.

"I played well, better than I shot," said Liston, playing in just the fourth meet of the weather-restricted season. "My approach shots were lacking, and I had a few blowup holes. Shots 100 yards and in definitely need work."

The turning point came after the rain delay basically swamped several holes on the back nine, where Johnson, Liston and Dagenais ended their rounds. Liston came out of the delay with a double-bogey 6 on No. 12 and a three-putt triple-bogey 6 on No. 13, putting the skids on her final high school round.

"The rain delay helped Pax out," said EHS assistant coach Jake Berlinski, referring to Johnson’s double-bogey 6 on No. 10 and a bogey-4 on No. 11 that happened as dark clouds were approaching. "She was able to regroup in the clubhouse and came out ready to fire."

With the weather arriving, Berlinski encouraged Johnson to hit her approach shot to No. 12 green after her tee shot – just before the weather horn – landed shy of the creek 155 yards from the green. "That kind of got her round started again, and with Kaaren going the other way it kind of sealed the deal," he said.

"I didn't let myself get freaked out," Johnson said of her brief slump. "I played a good, solid front nine. I was a little bit frustrated, but the key was it was just one (bad) hole and there are eight more to go so I just kept playing."

Johnson's only misstep after that came on No. 15, which had several large puddles – actually more like small ponds. She had a double-bogey 6 on No. 15.

Johnson only had two legitimate birdie attempts but missed on Nos. 1 and 7, after Liston birdied No. 1. "I couldn't quite capitalize. I mis-read them a little bit," Johnson said.

"The first 3-4 holes I kept playing solid and settled in and found my groove," she added.

Playing with Liston was beneficial, she agreed. "It definitely helped playing with her. She is such a good golfer and she pushes me. She is an amazing golfer and hits the ball a mile. I love watching her because she has such a beautiful swing,” Johnson said.

"If I play my best game and she plays her best game, there is nothing I can do. I can't play defense."

Liston said her goal was to shoot in the 70s, which began after shooting 75 in a family outing Monday at Houghton’s Portage Lake Golf Course.

Dagenais, a solid No. 2 behind Johnson during the abbreviated season, was happy and sad about her final prep round. She three-putted No. 18 for a double-bogey 7 and "I missed the last putt by this much (inches on her fingers). I wanted to take second alone," she said.

"I hit a lot of greens in regulation. I wanted my team to have a better chance of winning," she added. "My irons were awesome. I was sticking the pins."

Berlinski was happy to see the girls triumph. "To walk out with that trophy right now is pretty incredible," he told three of the girls who will be returning in spring. "Having Paxton helps when you have the medalist. The other four girls played probably as good as they have all year, and at the right time."

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) A 20-minute downpour left large ponds of water scattered around the back nine at Escanaba Country Club during Thursday's Upper Peninsula Division 1 girls golf tournament. Tourney medalist Paxton Johnson's reflection is shown as she pushes her cart on the 14th fairway. (Middle) Johnson holds up her individual and team championship medals. (Below) Kaaren Liston of Houghton watches as her chip shot tumbles toward the hole Thursday. She tied for second. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1