Fitting home finale: Emma Bleau, Kayla Kaukola shine in final home games as Ishpeming Hematites softball team sweeps Houghton

With umpire Charlie Morrison looking on, Ishpeming's Kayla Kaukola slides safely into home plate as Houghton catcher McKenna Foster catches the ball in the second game of their high school softball doubleheader played in Ishpeming on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“She’s so determined and she is not going to be stopped.” — Ben McGuire

, Ishpeming softball coach, on senior Emma Bleau pitching both ends of Tuesday’s doubleheader

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ISHPEMING — Playing your last home game on your home field is always a bittersweet occasion for high school seniors, but the two captains of the Ishpeming softball team definitely made the most of their final appearance on Tuesday.

Senior pitcher Emma Bleau gave up seven hits and struck out 18 Houghton batters, while fellow senior Kayla Kaukola had three hits and two RBIs while scoring four runs as the Hematites swept a doubleheader from the Gremlins, 10-0 in the first game and 7-5 in the second.

Ishpeming head coach Ben McGuire praised Bleau’s performance in the circle, especially with how she fought off Houghton’s late rally.

Ishpeming pitcher Emma Bleau rests the ball on her hip while waiting for a player to step into the batter's box during their high school softball doubleheader played in Ishpeming on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“Since it was her last game at home, Emma wanted to pitch both games and she did well, but I think in the second game that she kind of ran out of gas at the end,” he said. “You could see at the end, though, that she was like ‘I’m doing this. I’m finishing this thing.’

“She’s such a quiet kid, but she’s so determined and she is not going to be stopped. She’s very even-keeled. People may make mistakes behind her sometimes, but you very seldom see it affect her.”

The nightcap was a tight throughout as just when it seemed as if the Hematites would close out Houghton, the Gremlins managed to prolong the game for another inning.

Ishpeming scored first in the bottom of the second inning on a fielder’s choice by Berkli Asgaard. The Hematites then padded their advantage with three more runs in the third. A RBI triple from Korey Kaukola scored Madison Pruett and Kaukola would later score on a fielder’s choice by Kayla Kaukola. Ishpeming scored its final run in the frame on a sacrifice bunt by Willow LaChapelle.

However, Houghton started to answer back in the fourth. The Gremlins got their first run when Sofie Kyllonen scored on a fielding error. In the fifth, Houghton pulled closer on two more fielding mistakes as the Gremlins trailed only 4-3 heading into the bottom half of the inning.

Ishpeming wasn’t deterred by its errors, though, as it started to wear down Houghton pitcher Isabelle Cleary. The hurler had done a decent job so far against the Hematites before issuing three straight walks to start the fifth. After Korey Kaukola scored on a passed ball, a bunt single from LaChapelle plated Kayla Kaukola. Later in the inning, Asgaard laced an RBI single to put Ishpeming up 7-3.

Bleau blew through the sixth inning, but got into some trouble in the seventh. Several more Hematite errors helped Houghton cut its deficit to 7-4 before Quinn Donnelly cranked a triple to the centerfield wall to score another run. But Bleau wasn’t rattled and got a strikeout to close out the game.

“We had a nice little rally and I think we finally got her (Bleau’s) timing down after 14 innings or however long it was,” Gremlins head coach Melissa Baker said. “We started to figure things out and we haven’t seen that kind of speed yet this year. So it took us a little bit, but I think we finally figured it out. There’s a few things that we need to work on yet, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Bleau finished the game with eight strikeouts, while giving up five hits and one walk. Cleary took the loss for the Gremlins as she gave up seven hits with four walks, while striking out three.

In the opening game, it took a little while for the Hematites to get rolling, but once they did, they were hard to stop. Ishpeming scored five runs in the third, highlighted by an RBI triple by Myah McNab. After scoring twice more in the fourth, the Hematites finished off the Gremlins in the sixth. Pruett led off the inning with a base hit, then Korey Kaukola drove her in with a long triple to left field. Kaukola later scored on a hit by Kayla Kaukola and Bleau capped off the game with a sacrifice fly.

“We hit the ball really well,” McGuire said. “We put up 17 runs in two games and I’ll take that every doubleheader. Madison has been hitting all year and right now, everybody has been hitting the ball. Emma has been hitting well lately and Korey and Kayla. Really, it’s up and down the lineup.”

Bleau had 10 strikeouts in the first game and only gave up two hits and one walk. Josie Connors was dealt the loss for the Gremlins as she gave up seven runs on nine hits and three walks, while striking out two in four innings of work.

Ishpeming opens the MHSAA Division 4 district tournament next Tuesday at Superior Central.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.