Keweenaw All-Stars State bound

LAKE LINDEN – The Baraga “Crush” Senior Softball All-Stars pushed the Keweenaw All-Stars to a third game Sunday in the best-of-three District 11 championship series in Lake Linden, but, for the third straight year, it’ll be the north-end girls traveling south to continue their playoff run.

Keweenaw bested Baraga 16-9 at the Boneyard in a 12:30 p.m. deciding game to earn a trip to the Senior Softball State Championship tournament this weekend in Escanaba. The previous two seasons, Keweenaw was eliminated in a sectional tournament in Norway, but due to fewer teams, six district winners will go straight to the state tournament.

“This is our first year advancing to the state tournament, and I’m just proud of all the girls,” Keweenaw manager Jeff Shepeard said. “They battled and came out ready to play. We scored in every inning but one. It’s good to keep the pressure on.”

Baraga tallied two first-inning RBI groundouts to open up a 2-1 lead, which it held through a scoreless second inning, but Keweenaw scored at least three runs in each of the next four innings, and added two more in the seventh to put the game out of reach.

Even in the second inning, Keweenaw loaded the bases against Baraga pitcher Nicole Rossi. That time, Rossi shut the door by striking out Kyleigh Audette, but Keweenaw broke through in the top of the third inning. Erin Gast led off with a triple, and the next batter, clean-up hitter Megan Yeo, launched her second home run of the series.

Baraga got a run back on an error in the bottom of the third, but Keweenaw answered with a four-run fourth inning, aided by a hit batter and a throwing error.

“It was a tough loss. It actually came down to pitching – it usually does at this level – and errors,” Baraga manager David Goodreau said. “In a close game, just a few little errors are going to change the whole tone of the game, and then the girls get down.”

Errors hurt on the offensive side, too. Shaylin Menard ripped a solid single to center to lead off the fourth inning, and she advanced to second on a fielding error by Keweenaw centerfielder Morgan Peters. But, Menard risked running to third, and Peters recovered from her error to throw out Menard with room to spare.

Keweenaw pitcher Sarah Audette surrendered a run later in the inning on a wild pitch, but her team’s offense answered another one-run Crush inning with a three-run frame.

Yeo notched a two-RBI double and Sarah Audette registered an RBI double to increase Keweenaw’s lead to 11-4 in the top of the fifth inning.

Audette was a bit erratic on the mound in the bottom of the fifth, though, surrendering a run on a bases-loaded walk and another on a wild pitch. She walked seven in the seven-inning game, which contributed to a five-run Baraga fifth inning, but the Keweenaw offense and error-prone Baraga defense provided plenty of run support. Emily Lahnala’s two-RBI single in the seventh inning was the icing on the cake.

“I think our bats finally came alive,” Shepeard said. “Everybody through the lineup started hitting the ball like they can.

” I think this is probably the best hitting lineup we’ve had as far as an All-Star team. We don’t have a weakness top to bottom. This is just a really well-rounded team.”

Saturday that offense was on display in Game 1, which Keweenaw won 14-8. Yeo homered to left field and Sarah Audette scored three times for Keweenaw. Audette also registered the win on the mound in a shortened outing to preserve her innings count for Game 3.

Baraga won the second game Saturday, 15-12, but only after Keweenaw rallied from being down 10-3, including an Erin Gast home run. Bekah Goodreau was the winning pitcher, while Peters, who scored three times in the game, took the loss for Keweenaw.

“It’s always nice to go three games and have that championship game,” coach Goodreau said, “but I have to give credit to them. They have some awesome hitters.”

In Escanaba, Keweenaw will play five rounds of pool play, starting with 9 and 11 a.m. Saturday games against the winners of District 9 and District 2, respectively. The top two seeds will play in a championship game at 11:30 a.m. next Monday for the right to advance to regional play at South Bend, Ind.