TRAVERSE CITY — Don’t be surprised if next year’s Division 3 softball regional looks a lot like this year’s.
Gladstone came away with Saturday’s regional championship, but the other three entrants lose only two seniors apiece.
The Braves pulled out 3-1 and 4-1 victories over Traverse City St. Francis and Boyne City to earn the title and a return trip for Tuesday’s quarterfinal across town at Traverse City West.
Gladstone (25-2) scored three runs in the decisive sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie with Boyne City. Gladstone has won regional titles the last four years, but after largely romping through the regular season, the Braves have been adept at pulling out close postseason contests.
“In our district tournament, we came up against Negaunee, and that was an 11-inning game,” first-year Gladstone coach Ashley Hughes said. “I tell them, ‘You never know what to expect.’ Nobody is going to bow down and say, ‘OK, it’s yours; take it.’ It’s regionals, so we know we’re up against tough competition every step of the way.”
Boyne’s Kaitra Wilkins and Rainy McCune are the team’s only seniors, while the battery of pitcher Emma Shumaker and Hannah Hoth are both sophomores.
“They play good ball,” Ramblers coach Sandy Clausen said. “We’ve moved people around a little bit during the season. I’ve got kids who are juniors who have played three season here. I look forward to our future. It just didn’t happen for us in our last game. They were looking forward to it. But they also know Gladstone has been here tons and it’s an extremely tough program.”
Hughes said she expected a tight game with Boyne, after witnessing the Ramblers win 10-5 over Tawas in the other semifinal.
“I saw Boyne City just rocking that pitcher in their first game against Tawas,” Hughes said. “It was hit after hit after hit.”