Talented Escanaba Pursuing Title Repeat
May 14, 2019
By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
ESCANABA – Ever since softball became part of the Escanaba High School athletic program in 1997, it has been among the best and most consistent offerings in the state.
Last year the Eskymos confirmed their elite prep status by winning the MHSAA Division 2 title, and they again are in the thick of this year's championship picture. Escanaba belted South Haven 5-0 in last season’s Final, after clipping Eaton Rapids 2-0 in the Semifinal two days before.
The Eskymos won their final 13 games last year to finish 31-3. Gabi Salo, then a sophomore, fanned 11 of the title game's opening 13 batters and allowed three hits while punching out 13 batters total. Salo and Escanaba yielded just two runs over seven postseason games. The six EHS seniors on that team compiled a 131-18 record during their four seasons.
Escanaba previously was Division 1 runner-up in 2003 and lost in Division 2 Semifinals in 2016 and 2017.
Salo has helped the Eskymos to a 15-1 record in this weather-marred spring, and Escanaba was ranked No. 1 in the state before losing to Kent State recruit Gabbie Sherman and Division 3 top-rated Millington 3-0 on Friday in Escanaba. Sherman, another of the state's prime pitchers, also throttled Escanaba 2-1 last year.
The Eskymos rebounded from Friday's loss in grand style on a frigid Saturday, whipping Marshfield, Wis., 9-5 and then clipping arch-rival Gladstone 7-0 behind a perfect game by Salo, who whiffed 14 batters.
Gladstone manager John Nevala said "if her control is good and she can get the corner called, she can be called unhittable. We had been hitting the ball pretty good until we faced Gabi."
Salo demonstrated better location and control against Gladstone than the previous night's rare loss. "She is in a class of her own," said Nevala. "She has to be one of the top pitchers in the state. She had very good movement.
"She has excellent speed (around 64-65 mph) and an excellent changeup. She changes speeds so well. She probably has three different speeds. You can't really dig in on one location at the plate."
This season Salo is 10-1 with two saves and sports a dominating 0.02 ERA. She has struck out 136 batters in 69 2/3 innings, but has also issued eight walks and hit four batters during wicked spring conditions the opening month. (NOTE: After a pair of no-hitters Monday and Tuesday against Marquette and Gladstone, respectively, Salo is 12-1 with 161 strikeouts in just under 84 innings pitched.)
A University of Wisconsin recruit since last spring, Salo felt she threw well against Millington and Gladstone, but indicated she was "pretty tight" in the freezing opener. She said her curveball and changeup worked better against Gladstone.
She didn't pay attention to keeping Gladstone off the bases. "I try not to think about those things. I feel like it is a jinx," she said.
Salo worked hard last year to develop her back-breaking change-up and now terms it her favorite pitch. "It is spot-on," she said. "It throws the hitters off their game. I go out, focus and attack the hitter. I like getting swinging strikes." She is not afraid to use her change on a 3-2 count.
She fires her fastball down-and-in or inside-and-high and loves to get her pitches inside on the batter's fists.
The Escanaba first-year manager is her father, Gary, who was the pitching coach for the Eskymos last year under Jamie Segorski, who resigned as coach just as practice began this spring. Gary and Gabi have been together for several years on different summer travel teams.
He signals the pitches from his dugout perch, using input from his daughter and junior catcher and Ferris State commit Dakota Cloutier, who also handled that spot last season.
Senior right fielder Lexi Chaillier, a three-sport, four-year standout, leads the Eskymos with a .481 batting average and five home runs. Gabi Salo leads with 18 RBI and hits .378, while sophomore first baseman-pitcher Nicole Kamin is hitting .477 with 14 runs driven in. Cloutier is hitting .356 with 12 RBI.
Expect that quartet to lead the way this weekend when the Eskymos play in a highly-competitive 20-team invitational tournament in Ann Arbor. The strong field is what the Eskymos search for in compiling a schedule, with trips into Wisconsin and lower Michigan to find high-quality opponents.
Referring to other top hurlers, along with Millington's circle ace, Gary Salo said "we want to go up against elite pitching if we want to go to the next level." And now, with a state title, he said the Eskymos know "we are going to get everybody's best game."
After Friday's loss and the twin wins Saturday, the Escanaba skipper said "our kids are very resilient. We licked our wounds."
Much of the high school program's success is credit to a tremendous Little League program. Gabi Salo began pitching at age 10 when her youth coach asked if anyone wanted to throw. For many years she has received extensive coaching from Pat Brower in Ann Arbor. "He has developed Gabi into the pitcher she is," said her dad. "It is well worth driving six-and-a-half hours each way."
Gabi Salo began her travel ball experience with the Escanaba Heartbreakers at age 10, then joined downstate teams, playing with Wixom Finesse the past three summers. The opportunity to play against quality travel teams in addition to high school has been crucial to her development.
Travel ball has taken the Salos to Atlanta, Huntington Beach, Calif. and Boulder, Colo. in addition to such destinations as the Grand Canyon. Gary Salo drives the family RV everywhere, with just father-daughter on most jaunts.
"Softball has given us a summer-long vacation," said Gary Salo.
"Definitely travel ball has helped me see parts of the country I would never get to see," said Gabi, who plans to enter the nursing field at UW and works at Christian Park Nursing in Escanaba. She also bowled for EHS and participates in dance, saying she would skip a softball game but would not skip a dance recital.
"The travel ball and high school competition is pretty equal," she said. "We play the best competition there is in the country."
Escanaba, which also excels in the classroom (a state-best 3.83 GPA), knows a title repeat will be difficult to achieve because teams like Richmond, Muskegon Oakridge, Eaton Rapids, Spring Lake, Detroit Country Day, Freeland and Stevensville Lakeshore are very dangerous.
"It is not a seven-game series. They are seven-inning games," Gary Salo said of the postseason dynamics.
"A lot of teams are playing really, really well," he said. "Any team has the opportunity to get lucky like we did."
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012 and currently is in a second stint as the interim in that position. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTOS: (Top) Gabi Salo makes her move toward the plate during last weekend’s Escanaba Invitational. (Middle) A championship banner at the Eskymos’ home field celebrates last season’s Division 2 championship. (Below) Gary Salo has taken over the varsity this spring. (Photos by Dennis Grall.)
Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
January 4, 2023
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.