East Lansing — Nicole Kamin picked the right time to hit her first home run of the season, slamming a 2-2 pitch over the center field fence for a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning for the difference in top-ranked Escanaba’s 2-1 Division 2 state semifinal win over North Branch Thursday afternoon.
Escanaba (33-3), the defending state champions, will face Stevensville Lakeshore (33-10) in Saturday’s 10 a.m. final.
North Branch senior Maeson Schlaud carried a 1-0 one-hit shutout into the sixth when freshman shortstop Carsyn Segorski hit a single to left, then took second when the ball went through the outfielder’s legs. Lexi Chaillier followed with a line drive grounder to the North Branch shortstop who bobbled the ball and then threw to second to try to get Segorski who first slid safely under the tag.
After the North Branch shortstop questioned the call, the umpires got together and called Segorski out, saying she switched hands while sliding head first into second and was tagged out when her hand came off the bag.
But, instead of letting the controversial call get to her, Kamin calmly stepped to the plate — in the rain — worked the count to 2-2 and then slammed the ball over the center field fence, more than 230 feet from the plate.
“I just went up there looking for a hit and then I saw Carsyn (Segorski) and how they called her out over there, and I was getting fired up, and I just swung and it went over (the fence),” said Kamin, a sophomore. “I’ve never hit a ball that hard, it was right down the plate. It’s a big team win, feels good to be going back to the championship game again.”
Yes, Escanaba carried the 2-1 lead into the seventh, but standout junior pitcher Gabrianna Salo still need to get three outs to return to the title game.
And, things got interesting.
After Autumn Deshetsky reached safely on an error, Reese Ruhlman grounded into a fielder’s choice, then Clare Westphal hit a grounder to shortstop and her wild throw allowed Ruhlman to take third while Westphal advanced to second.
Yes, Salo — a Wisconsin commit — had to focus and hit her spots with the winning run in scoring position. She had given up just one hit, an RBI double by Ruhlman who hit three home runs in the state quarterfinal win and is headed to Detroit-Mercy.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” said Salo, the daughter of first-year head coach Gary Salo. “Back in February, my grandmother passed away. She meant the world to me and not having here today was pretty hard. I kind of talked to her in that last inning and knew she’d help me out a little bit. She was here last year, came to the whole postseason. I felt her out there. I know she’s smiling right now. She’s pretty proud.”
Salo retired Madison Taylor on a pop up to second, then had a big battle with Emily Ludescher, finally striking her out to end the game after Ludescher fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches.
“I was really concentrating, didn’t know if I should throw a changeup because a little base hit would send us home,” said Salo of facing Ludescher. “I just wanted to throw my best pitch and I threw a fastball inside that kind of went high.”
Salo finished with 14 strikeouts without allowing a walk, allowing the one hit, the RBI double by Ruhlman.
Stevensville Lakeshore 8, Eaton Rapids 1
Isabella Najera had an RBI triple in the third to give Stevensville Lakeshore (33-10) a 1-0 lead, then had an RBI single during a six-run fourth inning in the dominating semifinal win.
It was Denny Dock’s 982nd career win in his 30-year coaching career at Lakeshore. He will be looking for his eighth state championship, winning his first in 1995 in Class B and his last coming in 2014 in Division 2.
Sierra Ciesielski, Laney Mead and Nadia Amicarelli also had two hits apiece for Lakeshore with Ciesielski contributing a two-run triple during the pivotal fourth inning.
Gianna Kerschbaum started and earned the win, going 3 2-3 innings, giving up three hits and three walks. Najera went 2/3 of an inning and Grace Connelly finished the game, working the final 2 2/3 innings.
Grace Lehto, who took the loss, was 3-for-4 at the plate for Eaton Rapids (39-4).
All games at Secchia Stadium, Michigan State, East Lansing
Warren Regina 4, Bay City Western 0
Howell 9, Clarkston 6
Final: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Escanaba 2, North Branch 1
Stevensville Lakeshore 8, Eaton Rapids 1
Final: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Schoolcraft vs. Dundee, 3 p.m.
Millington vs. Standish-Sterling, 5:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Unionville-Sebewaing vs. Rogers City, 12:30 p.m.
Coleman vs. Kalamazoo Christian, 10 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 3 p.m.