Nikki Bauer ends career on top, USA beats Inland Lakes, 1-0
East Lansing – A perfect game was the furthest thing from Nikki Bauer’s mind.
In her thoughts, she had just one simple request.
"Just give me a run," she said. "It takes so much pressure off of me. I don’t have to be perfect."
As it turns out, Bauer was perfect for five innings, holding Indian River Inland Lakes at bay until Unionville-Sebewaing Area squeezed across the one run that gave the Patriots a 1-0 victory in the Division 4 championship game on Saturday at Michigan State University.
It was understandable if other people were thinking about a perfect game, considering that Meghan Beaubien of Division 3 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central had thrown one in the previous game. Not only that, but two games earlier, Richmond’s Erin Shuboy pitched a conventional no-hitter in the Division 2 final.
"I don’t really think about that," Bauer said of the perfect game. "I guess no runs is my goal. I was just thinking that every hit is a run; that’s what my mindset was. I needed to keep that off the field."
For the second year in a row, Bauer pitched a one-hit shutout and struck out 11 in the championship game. The Patriots won their fifth title in 11 years, matching the 2007’s feat of back-to-back titles.
"I never actually thought this day would come, where I would be in the position to represent our town and represent our school," said senior Kayla Gremel, who scored the game’s only run in the top of the sixth inning. "I’m proud. This is what we’ve worked for since we were little girls. The goal was to get to Battle Creek, then it changed to MSU. We showed everyone we can do it."
A lead-off single up the middle by Makayla Henckel in the sixth broke up the perfect game, but Bauer retired the next three batters.
She would face a showdown in the seventh with Inland Lakes’ slugger Cloe Mallory, whose two-run homer the previous day accounted for the only runs in a semifinal victory over Holton. Mallory was intentionally walked in her next two trips to the plate by Holton, but the thought never crossed Bauer’s mind after a lead-off walk presented the threat of a walk-off homer for the Bulldogs.
"I struck her out the time before," Bauer said. "I try not to be afraid of hitters, because it just messes with my mind."
Bauer went right at Mallory, and got more than she bargained for. Not only did she strike out the Central Michigan University commit for the third straight time, but catcher Sara Reinhardt caught Precious Delos Santos trying to steal second base for an unorthodox double play. Shortstop Marisa Morton stayed with the tag after Delos Santos went past the base.
A groundout later and the Patriots repeated as Division 4 champions.
"Coming into this game, I didn’t think they were going to intentionally walk me," said Mallory, who has 15 homers. "Every game you have to prove yourself. I didn’t do that much in this game."
After being locked in a pitchers’ duel with Mallory through five scoreless innings, Bauer got all of the support she would need in the top of the sixth.
Gremel led off with a single to center field, was bunted to second by Alexis Cady and advanced to third on a wild pitch. She beat the throw home when Marisa Morton bunted the ball to third base.
"I’m not the fastest girl on the team, but I knew I had to run my butt off in order to win," Gremel said. "That’s just what I did, I guess. I knew that Nikki was on fire. I knew that their offense was slow, our offense was slow, so one run was going to put us ahead and get us the win."
The Patriots loaded the bases after Gremel scored, but couldn’t add to their lead.
With Bauer in cruise control, Mallory was tested inning after inning. She pitched with runners on base in all seven but was able to wiggle her way out of some tough situations to keep her team in the game. She gave up six hits, walked four and hit a batter one day after pitching a shutout.
The Patriots stranded nine runners.
"It’s definitely hard, especially coming from yesterday when there was barely anyone on base to today when everyone was on base," Mallory said. "It’s like you have to be perfect with every pitch and just know you’ve got to make this one or it’s not going to end well."