ESCANABA - The Grandville Minor Girls' (age 9-10) Little League All-Stars withstood a major challenge Thursday, earning the state softball title with a 7-3 victory over Jackson Northwest.
Grandville appeared to be in control in the third inning when it scored twice for a 4-0 advantage.
Jackson, however, had different ideas.
Justin Marietti |?Daily Press
The Grandville Minor girls Little League team celebrates after they received the state championship trophy for their 7-3 victory over Jackson Northwest, Thursday, at Lemerand Park in Escanaba.
Northwest got a pair of runs back in the fourth, taking advantage of Grandville's lone error and Morgan Neitzke's infield RBI single.
The Jackson area squad then trimmed its deficit to 4-3 in the fifth on Megan Swartz's infield single.
"That's just part of the game," said Grandville manager Heidi Hardin. "They (Northwest) played an excellent game. They never gave up, which made it fun. I think this is the way a state championship game should be. They have a very good team.
"I believe in our girls. They also play a lot of fall and travel ball together. I had a feeling they'd come through."
Winning pitcher Jamie VanderMeer also got her fingers stung on Swartz's hit, prompting Hardin to make a trip to the mound to check on her starter.
Following a few warm-up tosses, VanderMeer went back to work and retired four of the last five hitters she faced.
"I was trying to field the ball and forgot to put my glove back on," said VanderMeer, who struck out nine, walked two and allowed six hits. "I just kept trying to throw strikes."
Grandville responded with three runs in its half of the fifth, taking advantage of two errors, a walk and a wild pitch.
"It was a little easier to go back out there with a four-run lead," said VanderMeer, who fanned the first two hitters in the sixth. "That put me a little more at ease. Hours and hours of practice really paid off. I also think our catcher (Courtney Hardin) is awesome. She helped me and our whole team out."
Hardin went 3-for-3. Among her hits was an RBI single to left in the third, which helped Grandville gain its four-run cushion. She also singled to center in the first when the state champions scored their first two runs.
Shortstop Kyleigh Hall added infield singles in the first and third.
Northwest committed four errors, including a pair in the fifth, and left the bases loaded in the fourth and fifth.
"We were in a situation to win it," said Northwest coach Mike Cooper. "We just couldn't clear the bases when we needed to. The kids played hard, but we made too many errors. Plus, they (Grandville) had great pitching and clutch hitting. Their kids did a great job. They didn't make many mistakes."
Catcher Bree Burman had two hits for Jackson, which stranded nine runners in the contest. Grandville left five on the bases.
Bailey Cooper, who pitched the entire contest, absorbed the loss. She fanned eight, walked two and gave up nine hits.
"This is only our third year of Little League softball," said coach Cooper. "I thought our girls also did an excellent job. This is a great building block for our Little League program, community and school softball program."