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Escanaba’s red-hot Gabi Salo throws her fifth no-hitter of the week, beating South Lyon at Ann Arbor Area Varsity tournament

By: Matthew B. Mowery, May 17, 2019, 11:20 pm

ANN ARBOR — If anything, the South Lyon hitters should know they’re not alone.

Nor should they be embarrassed by being glad that Eskymos ace Gabi Salo is in Division 2, and not Division 1.

Salo continued her week of dominant pitching, tossing a no-hitter against the Lions in a 3-0 win to start off Escanaba’s weekend at the Ann Arbor Area Varsity Softball Tournament at Veteran’s Memorial Park Friday afternoon.

Her coach, father Gary Salo, wanted to give her a rest after that, but had to turn to his junior ace when No. 2 pitcher Nicole Kamin couldn’t go in Game 2 against Saline.

“My No. 2 had a hip flexor (issue) one pitch in, or even before, so I ended up just shuffling on the fly. Didn’t really want to throw Gabs this game, so I needed my freshman (Emily Moore) to warm up a little bit more, so we bought her an inning or two. And she threw well. I knew that with a wet ball — Gabi can handle a wet ball a little bit better than she can, so that’s why we came back with her,” Gary Salo said.

“We try to mix pitchers a little bit — and boy, softball’s become sort of that baseball mentality of bringing kids in rather than having somebody throw a full seven.” 

Salo finished off the 6-2 win by the Eskymos over Saline, throwing the final inning after the overcast skies finally opened up. 

Of course, that’s hardly a bad option to have to go with — the Wisconsin-bound Gabi Salo had seven no-hitters and two perfect games as a sophomore last season, leading the Eskymos to the program’s first state title.

“Winning the state championship, that was so exciting. Everything happened so fast — I look back on it now, and I still watch the videos — it was so cool,” Gabi Salo said of the championship run, which saw the Eskymos come out of nowhere — at least in some people’s eyes — to win it all, as the underdog, a role they sort of relish. “I feel like we’re definitely underestimated. No one really knows where we are, but we really like the challenge, like to be the underdog.”

The Eskymos (21-2) have taken their first two losses of the season in the last eight days, but it’s come at a time that Salo is as hot as she possibly could be.

How hot?

Well, since last Friday’s loss to Millington, the 2018 runner-up in Division 3, Salo has thrown three no-hitters and two perfect games. 

Say what?

Here’s the rundown:

On Friday, May 10, the Eskymos lost their second game of the season, as Salo lost a pitchers’ duel with Millington’s Gabbie Sherman (one-hit shutout) in a 3-0 defeat. 

The next day, she gave up a run in relief vs. Marshfield in 9-5 win, then followed that up with a perfect game against Gladstone.

Monday, she threw a five-inning no-hitter against Marquette.

Tuesday, she threw a no-hitter against Gladstone, then gave up a run in two innings of relief in the nightcap.

Thursday, she came back and threw a five-inning perfect game against Menominee, then followed it up with the no-hitter against South Lyon.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s relief appearance, perfect game, no-hitter, no-hitter, relief appearance, perfect game, no-hitter.

In the week’s span since the loss to Millington, Salo has pitched nine times (44.2 IP), striking out 83 of the 114 batters she’s faced, only allowing two hits, walking five.

So, yeah, South Lyon hitters — you’re not alone.

As she grows into becoming more of a pitcher — and not just a thrower — as her career goes along, Salo has become adept at reading batters’ swings. And if they can’t touch something — like her fastball, which usually sits 65-66 mph, but has been up to 67 — she’ll keep using it.

“I’ve gotten smarter with the pitch calling. There are certain times you want to work on something, but there are other times, if you’re just overpowering, you stick with what works,” Gary Salo said. “Success is success, and that’s what you want to try to build in your pitcher’s mentality.”

Gabi Salo agreed.

“I like to throw whatever people aren’t hitting, or whatever the umpire is calling. That’s what I like to throw,” said Salo, who has a change-up, curve, drop — oh, and sometimes a screwball, if she wants to mess around with it.

“I don’t really like to be predictable. I’ll throw my change-up on any count. I just like moving it all over the place.”

Sort of like the team. 

“A lot. We travel a lot, just because we want to play the best competition. We’ve gone twice to Wisconsin. We only have.one home tournament, and then couple of doubleheaders we have at home, and then down here,” Gabi Salo said, admitting that the team-building aspect of long road trips helped the Eskymos become closer as a team.

“I think last year, that really contributed to our state championship. We were really close as a team last year, and we spent a lot of time together. We stay in hotels together, and we do a lot of team-building.”

A lot of those trips have been down into Wisconsin for tournaments, especially since it’s less than a two-hour drive from Escanaba to Green Bay, and more than six hours from home to Ann Arbor. 

“We started off the year with a really quality game in Kaukauna. Kaukauna’s a really good program in Wisconsin. We’re behind the 8-ball, because their facility and their weather’s a lot better than us, and that was our first time on dirt. Last I looked, they were ranked third or fourth in D1. Then we went off to Ashwaubenon, and knocked off Slinger there, and I think they were No. 2. Poynette was a great tournament for us. We saw Deforest. (Greenfield) Whitnall was a state champion from last year. And then Wetosha Central just surprised us. They had a girl that threw really, really well,” Gary Salo said. “Any time we can pack it up and see quality pitching, that’s what we want to do.”

They got that in South Lyon’s Alexis Bonk, who went over the 500-strikeout plateau for her career this week. The Wayne State-bound junior went toe-to-toe with Salo for seven innings, giving up just three hits and striking out 15. 

The Eskymos got an early run on a throwing error, and kept it 1-0 until adding two insurance runs in the sixth, a rally started by a triple by freshman Carsyn Segorski.

While Escanaba returned Salo, right fielder Lexi Challier and catcher Dakota Cloutier from last year, they did graduate six. The potential of a state title repeat may depend on how quickly they can get contributions from all the youngsters who are filling in those roles.

“Absolutely. It was cool to see, she spent an hour after our game yesterday doing batting practice. It’s just cool to give these kids the opportunity — we’re probably pressing these kids into duty way earlier than we’d like, but by the same token, they play a lot of travel ball, and they play enough, practice enough — all these kids want is an opportunity,” Gary Salo said. “We drive a lot of miles to get games like we had today, and those are just priceless.”

The Eskymos got a pair of runs in the first against Saline, then answered the Hornets’ second-inning run with a four spot in the third, and cruised from there. The bottom of the order provided the impetus for the later rally, with a two-run single by Maddy Block and an RBI double by Jalin Olson.

The Eskymos still have to play Jenison (10:30 a.m.) and Wayland (12:30 p.m.) in pool play before they can move on to either the championship or consolation bracket.