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DIVISION 2 SEMIS: Kamin’s rare HR lifts Escanaba past North Branch; Stevensville Lakeshore pounds out win over Eaton Rapids

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, June 13, 2019, 4:15 pm

EAST LANSING — When calls go against you, you can either get a little depressed, or a little … ticked.

Nicole Kamin got ticked off at a call that erased one of Escanaba’s baserunners in the sixth inning, and responded with a two-run homer that put the Eskymos ahead of North Branch for good.

Gabi Salo made that 2-1 lead stand up, wiggling out of a seventh-inning jam, stranding the potential tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position to send the defending Division 2 champs back to the finals on Saturday.

“At first, when Carsyn (Segorski) was on second, and Lexi (Challier) was on first, my goal was to get a base hit, and just move the runners. Then they called Carsyn out, and that kind of made me a little mad. Coach was like ‘Now we gotta win twice. We gotta win twice.’ I went up there a little angry, still looking for a base hit, and connected, and it went out,” said Kamin, who didn’t know it was going out.

“No. I was actually just sprinting, and as I was rounding first, I saw the center fielder watch it go over, and I was just like ‘Oh …’ I just started running to home. … Now I know what it feels like (for home run hitters). It feels amazing … It’s amazing. Such a big game like this, to move us to the championship — I don’t know. My heart is still pounding right now.”

The Eskymos (33-3) will play Stevensville Lakeshore (33-10) at 3 p.m. on Saturday.

It wasn’t easy getting there, after North Branch got an early run in the fourth, on Reese Ruhlmann’s RBI double to the gap in left center scoring Autumn Deshetsky, the back-to-back baserunners coming after the first 11 batters had gone down in order.

“Reese had a .500 season. She has since she was a freshman. She’s a senior now. In our quarterfinal game, she had three home runs. She’s definitely one of those kids that’s going to put the ball in play,” North Branch coach Allyssa Welling said.

“We worked on hitting yesterday. This is the best pitcher we’ve seen all season. We knew what we were getting into coming into this game. They’ve never said no. They said, ‘OK, I’ve got this next at-bat.’ They never stopped. We got down but even in the seventh inning we got two runners on. They just did everything in their power to do their job at the moment. It wasn’t about what happened before or what’s going to happen next. It was what can I do at this moment in time.”

The Eskymos haven’t scored a lot in their last few games, beating Muskegon Oakridge 1-0 in the regional finals, and Freeland 2-0 in quarters, so there probably wasn’t an outburst coming, but they still wanted to get Gabi Salo some run support.

“Our defense let us down, but not too bad. I kept peeking at the (score)board, and thinking ‘You can’t go home giving up one hit.’ Their best hitter hit our best pitch. The change-up floated a little bit. I walked out to Gabs, and said ‘I’m going to take 100 percent of the credit for that,’” said coach Gary Salo. “I said, ‘We’re going to get you two. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but we’ll get you two.’”

Kamin’s homer — the second of her career, according to the sophomore — got them the two.

“Nicole’s a basketball kid. She’s just an athletic kid that finds a way to the top of the order, drops her hands, and drops her shoulders, and finds the middle of it. … She found the middle of that ball,” said Gary Salo, who admitted he didn’t tell his sophomore anything before she went to bat. “No. You get to those pressure-packed situations, and you get two strikes on you, and the last thing I want to do is put a pitch in a kid’s head. … You want an athlete to be an athlete. She got the middle of the $400 bat on that one, and just hit the biggest home run of her life. She may have hit one in practice, maybe, maybe not, but she’s not a kid we go get balls over the fence very often. … That’s a keeper.”

The Broncos put two on in the seventh, when Deshetsky led off with an infield single and Clare Westphal reached on an error that put both runners in scoring position with one out.

“I told the girls, ‘We gotta live to get to Saturday. If they’re going to suicide, be smart. There’s a reason we get good grades. If you need to take that out and get to two (runs), and get us a tie game, we’re going to do that. We don’t want to airmail something in the rain, and then have to have our bats come alive again,” Gary Salo said. “Because man … the box scores tell us we’re not hitting the ball very well right now. We’re going to get that straightened out.”

That’s the type of situation when it’s nice to have a Big Ten-caliber pitcher on the mound, though. The Wisconsin-bound Gabi Salo got a pop out and a strikeout to wiggle out of the jam.

“I think this has to be the most intense jam I ever pitched out of. One base hit could send us home. So I knew I had to go with my best pitches,” she said, admitting that she was worried when those two promised runs didn’t come very quickly. “I was thinking that. I’m not going to lie. But this team just has so much fight in it; this team never gives up. We’re a pretty young team this year, but I knew people would pull through at the right time.”

Stevensville-Lakeshore 8, Eaton Rapids 1

EAST LANSING — Lakeshore roughed up Eaton Rapids ace Grace Lehto for a lopsided win, banging out 10 hits on the game. Four of them came in the six-run fourth inning, when the Lancers blew it open, using a two-run triple by Sierra Ciesielski and Laney Mead’s two-run double.

“This was kind of a ‘schedule’ win. That’s just the way it is. We’ve seen the girl from Gull Lake (Lauren Esman), we’ve seen the girl from Penn, we played Caledonia three times,” Lakeshore coach Denny Dock said. “So it’s not like we don’t see this — and she’s good, don’t get me wrong. But the point is that our schedule, we build it to see kids like this.”

A finalist for the Total Softball Player of the Year, Lehto came into the game with an ERA of 0.33 and one loss in the circle — 2-0 against fellow D2 semifinalist North Branch.

That was surprising how well they hit the ball, but again you gotta give them credit. They were well-prepared, and they drove the ball well on us. We had a couple of chances to make plays that we didn’t make, but give them credit. They hit the ball hard,” Eaton Rapids coach Scott Warriner said. “She hadn’t been hit like that this year, no. That had not happened. The most runs she’d given up in a game was two runs. Gotta give them credit. They smacked the ball around.”