EAST LANSING – South Haven managed three hits Saturday, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say Escanaba sophomore Gabi Salo was unhittable in the MHSAA Division 2 softball championship game.
But the University of Wisconsin recruit was pretty close.
Salo threw a second straight shutout at Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University, striking out 13 and not allowing a walk in Escanaba’s 5-0 win.
“I definitely think she’s the best pitcher that we’ve faced this year,” South Haven coach Wilma Wilson said. “We’ve faced some really good pitchers, but she was just living on the edge with every little thing and painting the corners and working the zone that the umpire was giving her. So no, we have not faced anyone like her this year.”
The MHSAA title was the first in program history for the Eskymos (31-3), who were making their third straight appearance in the Final Four, and first title game appearance since 2003.
“It feels amazing,” Salo said. “The last time Escanaba brought home a state championship was 1981 (in Class A football), and to bring home another one is really cool.”
To clarify: The Eskymos frequently claim MHSAA Finals titles in sports where the peninsulas play in separate divisions. But Saturday’s victory clinched Escanaba’s first championship in a statewide tournament since that 1981 football win – although the softball team long has been considered among the state’s elite regardless of peninsula.
Salo set the tone early Saturday, striking out 11 of the first 13 batters she faced, including the first eight. She did this despite a 25-minute rain delay that began two strikes into the second at-bat of the game.
“We just kept ourselves up and went out there and played like we were playing,” Salo said. “It didn’t bother us.”
Salo, who also shut out Eaton Rapids in the Semifinal on Thursday, finished the season with an earned-run average below 0.40.
“She was absolutely incredible,” Escanaba coach Jamie Segorski said. “It’s hard, you know, because we’ve come to expect it. She does it continuously. The bigger the game the better she pitches, and it’s a credit to all the work she puts in. Nobody works harder; nobody works longer. As a matter of fact, when she leaves here today, she’s going to be playing this weekend in Ohio. She doesn’t take breaks; she just plays.”
Escanaba catcher Dakota Cloutier knew coming into the game that her pitcher was going to be tough to hit – although she comes into most games with that feeling.
“She was on another level today,” Cloutier said. “She was pitching harder and pulling through all her pitches more than she ever has before.”
The game ended with a Salo strikeout, this one on a called strike, and one the umpire took a second to signal.
“When you’re waiting for changeup to float in there like that on that last pitch, I think (the umpire) was even surprised,” Segorski said. “That was a great pitch. It just takes a second to get the call, and we were all waiting and watching, and it was awesome.”
Salo was given all the run support she needed in the first inning, as Madison Griffin drove in Lexi Chaillier with a double.
While South Haven pitcher Hayley Kreiger was strong after that, the Eskymos were able to push across two unearned runs in the fourth inning with two outs, as Nicole Kamin scored on an error and Cloutier drove in Savannah Barron with a double.
Escanaba added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning as Heather Bergstrom, Barron and Cloutier hit back-to-back-to-back doubles with two outs.
“It was awesome,” Segorski said. “It’s a relaxed feeling for the hitters when they go up there and we have a nice lead. All they have to do is go up there and square the ball, and they did it. For Heather Bergstrom to come in as a pinch hitter and drive that one to right center was fantastic, and for Savannah Barron to end her high school softball career with a double and drive in an insurance run for us is an amazing feeling for her. It goes all the way through. Just a bunch of amazing kids who did an amazing thing.”
Kreiger finished with nine strikeouts of her own, allowing seven hits, one walk and three earned runs.
“She’s been our workhorse, and she’s the one we’re going to match up against anybody,” Wilson said. “Give them kudos, though; they had some nice line-drive hits and put the ball in play better than we did. “Hayley’s been there for us all year, and even came up with a nice hit there in the last inning to end her high school career. She’s been on the varsity for four years and been just a key player for us for four years. That’s the kind of player you build around, and our senior group in general is just a great group of athletes that work hard and are super gritty.”
South Haven, making its first championship game appearance since 1979, finished 32-9.
PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba players celebrate their first MHSAA softball championship Saturday at Secchia Stadium. (Middle) Eskymos shortstop Taylor Gauthier applies a tag to a South Haven runner.
Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.
She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.
See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:
Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.
Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.
A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.
Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.
Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.
Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.
Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.
A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.
PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.