BAD AXE — Even after his Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port team yielded the game-tying run in the top of the seventh inning to Bad Axe, Eric Wissner wasn’t worried.
He knew his heavy hitters were on deck.
Wissner and the Lakers needed just four batters to plate the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the championship game of the Huron Daily Tribune/Huron County Softball Tournament here Friday night. Lead-off hitter Brooklyn Foy walked, followed by an Erin Albrecht single and a Justine Swartzendruber sacrifice. That set the stage for cleanup hitter Ashley Richmond, who hit a hard ground ball to third base. Bad Axe’s Taylor Braun snagged the hot shot, but Foy beat the throw home, capping the Lakers’ exciting 8-7 victory over the Hatchets and giving them their second straight county title.
“Of course, we didn’t want to give up that run in the top of the seventh, but we were OK with giving up one run to tie it,” Wissner explained. “We were in a perfect spot. We had the top of the order coming up in our half of the seventh. We’re pretty confident in that spot we could score a run.”
And Foy never hesitated in going home on the crack of the bat from Richmond.
“That’s a contact play,” Wissner said. “We were just trying to chop the ball on the ground. When you have Brooklyn Foy on third — one of the fastest girls around — I will take my chances with that.
“And the third baseman was playing a little deep, so that helped, too.”
The sequence capped a wild game, with each team having their difficulties on defense. In fact, the Hatchets took advantage of a pair of EPBP errors in the top of the seventh to score the tying run. Braun, who was safe on an error to lead off the frame, scored when Brooke Robarge reached on an error. In between, Alyssa Kociba singled and Emily Sisco sacrificed.
“We’ve been better defensively the last couple of games, but tonight we just had some trouble,” Wissner said. “We have some new players in some new spots and we’re having some trouble communicating.”
EPBP scored first, but then rallied from a three-run deficit.
The Lakers took a 1-0 lead in the opening inning on a walk to Foy, a single from Albrecht and a pair of sacrifices from Swartzendruber and Richmond.
The Hatchets tied it in the top of the second on a double from Amanda Gentner, followed by an EPBP throwing error when Tori Orban flied deep to centerfield.
Bad Axe once again took advantage of poor EPBP defense to plate three runs in the third. Singles from Braun and Kociba, two errors and a hit batter gave the Hatchets a 4-1 advantage.
The Lakers regained the lead at 5-4 with a four-run fourth inning, highlighted by a three-run triple from Albrecht. Swartzendruber added an RBI single while Richmond, Kayla Deering and Kayla Blunt all had singles in the frame.
EPBP took a 7-4 lead in the fifth, capped by an RBI single from Foy and an RBI groundout from Albrecht.
Bad Axe got those two runs back in the top of the sixth. Gentner singled and Robarge reached on another Laker error before Julia Geiger drove them home with a double.
EPBP wasted a chance in its half of the sixth after three straight walks. But Robarge, who relieved Sisco in the fifth, got a pop out and a strikeout to wiggle out of the jam.
That set up the exciting final inning of play.
Wissner believes there is a correlation between his team’s struggles on defense, the shabby early spring weather and the movement of the pitcher’s mound. This season, high school softball pitchers now stand 43 feet (instead of 40 feet) from the plate, just like college pitchers. The new rule was approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations last year and adopted this season by the Michigan High School Athletic Association.
Last year, Albrecht had over 300 strikeouts for the Lakers, averaging right around 12 per game. She did fan nine Hatchets here Friday night, but the EPBP ace’s strikeout totals are significantly down from last season.
“Across the board, strikeouts are down,” Wissner said. “And that’s putting the pressure on the defense. And that gives them the opportunity to make more mistakes.
“And nobody is in a rhythm yet, especially on defense, because nobody has been able to get outside because of the cold weather.”
The Lakers hope to find their rhythm next week with doubleheaders against Saginaw Nouvel and Bay City All Saints. They also travel to Saginaw for a tournament next Saturday.
“We’re still trying to put some things together,” Wissner said. “Hopefully, next week, we can get some games in. Except for games, I think we’ve had just five practices outside. You really can’t work on defensive stuff in the gym.”
EPBP got to the finals with a 12-4 victory over North Huron in Friday’s first game. The Warriors actually led at one point early on, but the Lakers had a big push in the middle innings to put the game away.
|Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port players and coaches are all smiles after capturing their second straight Huron Daily Tribune/Huron County Softball Tournament title on Friday night. The Lakers beat Bad Axe, 8-7, in the finals.|