Escanaba’s Gabi Salo wins 2019 Total Softball Michigan High School Softball Player of the Year Award
EAST LANSING — Gabi Salo wasn’t always a flamethrower.
In fact, at the start of the Escanaba junior’s softball career, she was a ‘glove-chewer’ before she ever decided to become a pitcher.
Luckily, she won’t need to go back to being a ‘glove-chewer,’ since the pitching thing seems to be working out OK.
One of four sensational pitchers in the final four of the contest, Salo was named the Total Softball Michigan High School Softball Player of the Year on Saturday, after leading the Eskymos to a second straight Division 2 title.
“To go back-to-back, I think it’s my team that makes me look so good. This is a team award. This is not only me. They’re the people that make the plays that make me look good,” Gabi Salo said, after she was admittedly surprised by the award presentation following the Eskymos getting their trophy, but admitting she’d paid attention to the competition. “It tried not to focus on it too much. I didn’t want it to totally control my season. I think I kind of balanced it pretty good. I was going up against some amazing people, and it felt pretty good to win.”
The three other finalists included L’Anse Creuse’s Brooke Nadolny, Eaton Rapids’ Grace Lehto and Richland Gull Lake’s Lauren Esman.
Gabi Salo struck out 11 in the 7-3 championship game win against Stevensville-Lakeshore, after fanning 14 in a 2-1 semifinal win over North Branch.
That gave her 351 strikeouts on the season, and a microscopic ERA of 0.26.
“You know, you look at her stats, and they’re mind-boggling. I know going into last night, she had a 0.158 ERA,” said first-year Escanaba coach Gary Salo, who also doubles as Gabi’s father. “She’s just been a stud for us. Me being her dad, I don’t like to talk her up a whole lot — I let other people do that — but she’s taken care of business for us for three years now. And there’s nobody that works harder.”
But she wasn’t always a pitcher.
“That’s a great story. She was in 9-10, playing for our local travel organization. She was what we call a ‘glove-chewer.’ She chewed on the end of the strings on her glove. She played left field. She laid down a great bunt once. She had a lot to work on. At the end of the year, the coach had asked if there was anyone that wanted to learn how to pitch, and she had put her hand up. My wife said, ‘Gabi, you can’t do that.’ And she turned to my wife and she said ‘I’m going to learn how to do that.’ From then on, the best advice I was ever given was, ‘Tell her to throw hard. Throw hard, we can fix anything else,’” Gary Salo said. “She’s just got that natural ability that she gets more out of that frame …
“I know a lot of people were too scared to recruit her, because she’s too short, but that little shorty just won back-to-back state titles at the height she’s at. Everybody always tells me where she’s at on the gun and on the radar, and I just smile and think ‘There’s a few places that missed on her.’”
Gabi Salo has committed to attending Wisconsin, just a short four-hour trip from home for her parents to drive from Escanaba.
“I love the school, I love the coaches, I love everything about it,” she said. “I walked on to campus and I knew that was where I wanted to be. I knew that was my home.”
She might have to find someone else to catch her side sessions, though, after years of Gary Salo filling that role.
“It (the award) means so much. I want to thank my dad,” Gabi Salo said. “He’s sat on the bucket for many hours, taking way too many off the shins and knees and everything. My whole family, they’re the ones that drive me all over the country to play softball, so thank you.”
It has been a painful — yet welcome — task for her father.
“Oh, I’ve gotten a few busted toenails. Even with coach (Pat) Brower yesterday, this old guy usually catches a softie every now and then, but I told her to turn it loose. ‘Don’t worry, dad heals fast.’ She kept it out of the dirt, which is good, because my skills are declining and hers are rising. There’s a pretty good gap between what she throws and what I can catch,” Gary Salo said. “Lived out a dream watching her play as well as she has.”
2018 — Sammie Gehrls, Caledonia
2017 — Meghan Beaubien, Monroe St. Mary CC
2016 — Abby Krzywiecki, Farmington Hills Mercy
2015 — Alex Sobczak, Farmington Hills Mercy