Escanaba Finds Home as Softball Champ

June 26, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Relative to the other 15 softball teams playing in the MHSAA Semifinals two weekends ago at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium, the Escanaba contingent was far from home.

Escanaba not only advanced to play in its first MHSAA championship game since 2003, but returned home to the Upper Peninsula with its first MHSAA Finals title in the sport – and first in any sport with a unified tournament (both peninsulas together) since the football team won Class A in 1981.

The Eskymos gave up two runs total over six postseason games, shutting out Eaton Rapids 2-0 in a Semifinal and South Haven 5-0 in the Division 2 championship game to earn the honor as the final MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for 2017-18.

“It had been so long since we’d had a group down here, I think it was kinda nerve-wracking for them to be down on that field,” said Escanaba coach Jamie Segorski of the 2016 team, the first to return to the Semifinals since that 2003 Division 1 runner-up. “The last couple of years we’ve been fortunate enough to get down there, develop a comfort level, and we’ve come up with a nice schedule that’s convenient and comfortable and helped the girls stay with their norm.

“We expect to make it down there. Will we make it every year? Absolutely not. The competition is fierce. But in their minds, they know they can do it.”

Escanaba finished the spring 31-3, its only losses to eventual Division 3 runner-up Millington, Division 3 semifinalist Clinton and Rice Lake of Wisconsin. All three defeats were by just a run.

The Eskymos, as noted, also had advanced to the 2016 and 2017 Division 2 Semifinals, and they entered this playoffs ranked No. 3 by the state coaches association. So opening with District wins of 4-0 over Cheboygan and 11-1 over Petoskey wasn’t shocking. But a 10-0 shutout of No. 8 Muskegon Oakridge followed by a 12-0 shutout of Remus Chippewa Hills in the Regional certainly grabbed some attention.

Escanaba followed those with a 9-1 Quarterfinal win over annual power Saginaw Swan Valley, before finishing the run with two more shutouts – and a combined postseason scoring edge of 53-2.

Sophomore Gabi Salo without question is one of the best pitchers in the state. She came in in relief during the 2017 Semifinal loss to Richmond, but returned to Secchia to throw 14 shutout innings, giving up a combined seven hits and one walk with 20 strikeouts. She has added four mph to her fastball over the last year, dialing up 66 during the final inning against South Haven. For the season she finished 21-3 with a 0.40 ERA and 287 strikeouts in 156 innings pitched – and she’s already set to play at University of Wisconsin after graduation.

Her nearly unhittable performance was matched by plenty of hitting from her teammates. Junior rightfielder Lexi Chaillier hit .510 with eight home runs and 27 stolen bases from the leadoff spot. Senior second baseman Claire McInerney (.439, 16 SB), senior shortstop Taylor Gauthier (.400, 37 RBI) and senior third baseman Madison Griffin (.430, 6 HR, 46 RBI) filled in the next three places in the lineup, respectively. Eight starters entered the final week of the season batting at least .371, and all nine starters this season had at least one home run. Freshman Nicole Kamin batted fifth both games of Finals weekend and finished the season hitting .526 over 13 games, while going 10-0 with a 1.26 ERA from the pitching circle.

Gauthier and McInerney were three-year starters in the middle of the infield, and the rest of the team’s seniors all came up for the 2016 tournament run and had made all the trips to MSU. The team is well-traveled during the regular season as well, frequently heading downstate and into Wisconsin to find tough competition. The Eskymos find plenty at home too, as Delta County also includes Gladstone and Rapid River – ranked No. 8 in Division 3 and No. 9 in Division 4, respectively, heading into the postseason.

Football is king in Escanaba, and basketball rules the girls sports scene across the Upper Peninsula. But Eskymos softball came home as first-time-in-a-long-time champion, toppling history, clichés about the weather and any remaining misconceptions that teams traveling over the Bridge will sooner or later run into a rocky road.

“It’s fun to watch the girls develop that grit – being from the U.P., they always feel like they’re not looked at like everybody else, like they’re not as good, like how can they be good when they have snow until July,” Segorski said. “I think it really helps determine that higher sense of determination to win games.

“They’ll bask in the glory. They’ll enjoy it. And the younger girls were able to see what happened, see the fun and what we got done, and they’ll come in next year very determined.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2017-18
May: Brownstown Woohaven baseball - Report
April: Detroit Catholic Central boys lacrosse - Report
March: Brighton hockey - Report
February: Marquette girls and boys skiing - Report
Sterling Heights Stevenson competitive cheer - Report
Cadillac boys bowling - Report
November: Ottawa Lake Whiteford football - Report
Beaverton volleyball - Report
Shepherd girls golf - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba gets ready for its turn at bat after holding South Haven to another scoreless inning during the Division 2 Final. (Middle) Lexi Chaillier lines up a pitch during the championship game.

She's Back: South Lyon Ace Bradshaw Returns for Another Title Pursuit

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 11, 2024

SOUTH LYON — Two words likely won’t sit well with a lot of Division 1 softball teams around the state this year. 

Greater DetroitShe’s back. 

Or to play on the words of former Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger after a Sugar Bowl win in 2019, and others who before and since have added dramatics to the phrase: “She’s baaaaaaaaaaaack.”

“She” is South Lyon senior pitcher Ava Bradshaw. And if anyone who follows high school softball in the state happened to forget that name, let’s do a little refresher. 

Back in 2021, Bradshaw burst onto the scene in her first year of high school and played like a freshman …. in college. 

Bradshaw was a dominant two-way force both pitching and hitting, so much so that behind her, South Lyon won its first MHSAA Finals title, in Division 1. 

In the championship game against Allen Park, Bradshaw threw a three-hit shutout, striking out nine and walking one in a 5-0 South Lyon victory. She also had two RBI.

“I didn’t realize how crazy what we did was,” Bradshaw said. “We really did make that run.” 

Bradshaw was even better as a sophomore and seemed destined to lead South Lyon to a repeat. 

However, a first inning against Mattawan during which everything that could go wrong seemingly did started a 3-1 Quarterfinal loss that stunningly ended those 2022 aspirations. 

But hey, no problem. Bradshaw had two more years to win another championship, right? 

Bradshaw, middle, celebrates with teammates after they won the 2021 Division 1 championship at Secchia Stadium.Then came the summer prior to her junior year, when Bradshaw suffered a torn ACL during her travel ball season. She was hoping to come back at some point last year as a junior, but understandably didn’t want to push anything too hard, especially since by that point she had committed to play in college for Duke. 

This year, it would have been understandable if Bradshaw would have just wanted to sit out her senior year, enjoy the countdown to graduation and simply gear up for the next chapter. 

But Bradshaw was having none of that.

“In high school ball, every day I’m practicing and I’m playing with my friends, playing for my town and for my school,” she said. “That’s an honor, and I have so much fun. I couldn’t imagine not playing my senior year. That would be so sad. When I look back on my high school experience, some of the biggest memories I have come from softball. I couldn’t imagine not finishing what I started.” 

So Bradshaw is indeed back and not only fully healthy, but stronger and hungrier than she ever has been during her high school career. 

Bradshaw said going through rehabilitation for her injury last year has made her better physically. 

“I was forced to do certain movements and exercises that I never would have done had I not been forced to go to (physical therapy),” she said. “I became a more well-rounded athlete. I improved flexibility and mobility.” 

In her first game this season, Bradshaw struck 12 of the 15 batters she faced and went 4-for-4 at the plate. 

“We just plugged her right in,” South Lyon head coach Dave Langlois said. 

Not having Bradshaw last year actually could end up making South Lyon even better this year. 

“I think we were the only ones to score a run on the state champs, Hartland, in our Regional,” Langlois said. “We were one hit away with a young, inexperienced team for the most part. Those kids got to get experience in crucial times (without Bradshaw) when they may not have gotten (it).”

South Lyon probably still would’ve been formidable if Bradshaw decided not to play this year. But adding her back to a talented roster of underclassmen who are a year older and better?

It’s no wonder why “she’s back” might be the most terrifying two words for softball teams not named South Lyon this spring. 

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) South Lyon’s Ava Bradshaw makes her move toward the plate during a game against Flat Rock this spring. (Middle) Bradshaw, middle, celebrates with teammates after they won the 2021 Division 1 championship at Secchia Stadium. (Top photo by Conner Lipke; middle photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)