ESCANABA - After a weekend of stormy weather, Escanaba and Tecumseh certainly brought the heat Monday afternoon in the first round of single elimination play in the Minor girls (age 9-10) State Little League Tournament at Lemerand Park.
Pitchers Nicole Kamin of Escanaba and Sophia Whelan of Tecumseh put on a strikeout clinic, clicked off the lights and pulled the plug on each teams' bats through seven innings. But eventually both pitchers had to come out of the game, and someone had to blink first.
Tecumseh pulled out a clutch 1-0 victory with a walk off hit from Riley Chenevey, just Tecumseh's second hit of the game and the inning, to eliminate Escanaba.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Tecumseh players celebrate after Lilia Hughes’ walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning gave them a 1-0 victory over Escanaba in the Little League Minor girls State Tournament, Monday at Lemerand Field.
The sun was finally shining with temperatures in the low 70s, but on the field, Kamin and Whelan allowed no daylight. There were a combined 36 strikeouts between the two teams.
It was a combined 21 up, 21 down for both teams through the first 3.2 innings with all 21 outs coming via strikeout. Whelan struck out the 11 batters she faced and Kamin struck out the first 10. It was a parade of whiff.
"Unbelievable," said Escanaba manager Mark Cloutier. "Over 30 strikeouts, just crazy. It was a very competitive game."
Kamin's streak was broken up when Libbi Fair grounded out in the fourth inning, but Tecumseh was still held without a hit until the ninth inning.
By Little League rules, Kamin and Whelan had to leave the mound after the seventh inning. Kamin allowed just three base runners via two walks and a passed ball. Each time, the girl who reached base was replaced by pinch runner Bailee Ford, Tecumseh's speed specialist.
Ford was thrown out attempting to steal second the first two times and the third time she was held at first when the inning ended. But when Ford got her opportunity in the ninth, she took full advantage.
Abby Waynick led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, Tecumseh's first hit of the game. She was replaced by Ford, who easily stole second, and then took third without a throw to the base. Tecumseh had no outs and Escanaba moved its infield in close anticipating a quick throw to home. But Ford scored the winning run on a rip by Chenevey, barely beating the throw and it was over as Tecumseh erupted in celebration.
"Ford is our fastest and best baserunner. She knows when to take a base and I don't give her signs," said Tecumseh manager AC Fair. "She has a green light whenever she wants to go and she did what she's been doing all year. I can't say enough about Bailey Ford's baserunning ability and the way our team hung in there."
It was an 'aw shucks' play for Cloutier who pointed to the effort of his defense against Ford.
"We caught her stealing twice," said Cloutier. "She ran into the tag at second base. So hate off to my catcher (Dakota Cloutier) and shortstop (Ally Jackson). They were unbelievable."
Escanaba had the only two hits of the game, the first one coming in the fourth inning with two outs, a double to deep right by Bailey Barron. Carsyn Segorski later triggered Escanaba's best scoring chance. In the sixth inning, Segorski ripped a one-out double and advanced to third on Barron's groundout. But with Segorski ready to pounce on any opportunity to run home, Erica Moore hit a grounder down the middle of the infield but couldn't beat the throw to first and the chance was gone.
Whelan was dominant, striking out 13 and allowing two hits and no walks. Kamin struck out 18 with two walks and no hits.
For Fair, the game had a lot of similarities to last year's state tournament, when his team lost a razor close game to Gladstone that also featured dominant pitching by both sides.
"It was exactly the same last year except Gladstone won on a passed ball. It was a similar situation today. We threw a good pitcher, their pitcher was phenomenal, it was an exceptional game. Probably the best Little League game I've ever been a part of," he said.
"Hats off to Escanaba. They played a great game, they have a great team, we have a great team. It was a very good game."
Cloutier said losing such a close game after being named favorites was tough to take.
"The girls are disappointed. We had a couple teams approach me this morning and say that we were the team to beat, so I relayed that to the girls and they were excited," he said. "They thought we were going to win. It was a heck of a game against a really good Tecumseh team. Manager AC Fair does a great job down there."
Tecumseh will face No. 1 seed Jackson Northwest in today's quarterfinal game at 10 a.m. on the Center Field. Jackson defeated Lac St. Claire 15-1 on Monday.
"We've seen Jackson during our travel season, so we're familiar with them," said Fair. "It will be another good game."