TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - The Gladstone Braves softball team rolls into the MHSAA Division 3 regional with quite the pedigree - 14 straight district titles, 11 straight regional titles. A formidable roadblock for any opponent.
However, head coach Ashley Hughes offers a word of caution. There are potential landmines in this region in powers St. Francis and Tawas Area.
The Braves drew the St. Francis Gladiators in their regional semifinal while Tawas faces Boyne City in the other half of the bracket. Gladstone isn't going in blind however. The Braves split with the Gladiators on May 2. Ace Christine Sharon pitched a one-hitter and struck out nine in a 5-0 victory. In the nightcap, Mikayla Depuydt was nearly as effective, allowing five hits. The Braves led 3-0 in that game before St. Francis rallied in the bottom of the sixth to win 4-3.
Keith Shelton |?Daily Press
Gladstone infielder Lexi Hongisto throws to Jess Beaudry (not shown) during practice at Gladstone High School, Thursday afternoon. Gladstone is set to play Traverse City St.?Francis in a Division 3 regional semifinal, today.
"I'm confident the girls can play to their caliber. I don't know if we were 100 percent on top of our game last time," said Hughes. "We just needed to come up a little bigger in the second game.
"To be honest, the girls are hungry. We've had a week of practice and we're ready for competition."
Hughes noted the Gladiators (30-3) have solid pitching in Gabby Morgan and Lauren Cvengros
"We hit better in the first game against the first pitcher we faced. Our timing was a bit off against the pitcher in game two. She threw a change-up and that threw us off a little bit and the girls popped the ball up a little," said Hughes. "Their pitching was fine, their defense was making plays. They're not a new program, they know how to play the game. We have to make sure we're on top of our game as well at bat, because they can make plays."
The Gladiators won their district semifinal in three innings, 15-0 over Kalkaska before dispatching Kingsley 16-3. St. Francis has only two seniors in catcher Cailin Miller and Olivia Hardy. Hardy was 2-for-3 in each of the two district games and had three triples on the day, plus a double. Both players are three-year varsity players.
Even so, St. Francis coach Mike Doriot clearly has a lot of respect for Gladstone. In comments made to James Cook of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Doriot said of Gladstone, "If you came and watched them warm up, you'd think they were a college team. They're the real deal."
Miller said, "They're just an all=around solid team. Good offense, good defense, they make the plays."
Hughes was flattered with the comments.
"Their coaches were very friendly when we played them," she said. "We enjoyed going down there and playing them. They have a great complex and it's a friendly environment. It's a great compliment and I take pride in that, and the girls take pride in that too. It's important to be crisp and sharp for games."
On the other side of the bracket, Tawas poses quite the challenge as well. Tawas, also called the Braves, defeated Whittemore-Prescott 10-0 in their district semifinal before blasting Oscoda 14-1 in five innings to win the title.
Pitcher Kara Collins pitched a four-hitter with four strikeouts and no walks against Whittemore-Prescott. Jenna Szostak and Belle Flory each had two hits.
In the title game, Collins had six strikeouts against Oscoda. The Lady Braves (22-7) had a six-run second inning on a triple from Abbie Anderson and four additional hits. Jordyn Look had four hits and four RBIs and Flory had three hits and three RBIs.
"I know Tawas is a tough team in this bracket. They're well-coached and they're always a good test along the road," said Hughes. "We went down for that tourney and although we didn't face Tawas, it's great to see the different competition. It's a test to measure up with these teams that have similar backgrounds and records. It shows you what you need to improve on and zone in on to prepare for the next level."
Gladstone (23-2) defeated Manistique 12-0 in five innings to win its 14th straight district title, but had plenty of adversity before that in a 5-0, 11 inning victory over Negaunee. Hughes said that game now serves as a lesson going forward.
"The girls now understand that nothing along the way will get handed to them. You have to fight for every run and every play," said Hughes. "That 11 inning game was nerve-wracking for everyone involved. Afterward the girls opened up and talked about what they needed to do. Mentally, when you overcome something like that, it can be such a wave of momentum that carries into the next game. Hopefully, that's on our side this weekend and we can take that into the regional games."
Gladstone plays in the noon game Saturday or half an hour following the 10 a.m. game. The team will travel to Traverse City today with a light practice scheduled. The title game is tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m.