Ishpeming Hematites look for deeper run in MHSAA Division 4 softball regionals

Ishpeming’s Kayla Kaukola bats against Baraga in the MHSAA Division 4 district tournament finals last Friday at Superior Central High School. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

ISHPEMING — A year of experience at this level can only help the Ishpeming High School softball team as it prepares for the MHSAA Division 4 regionals on Saturday in Norway.

Head coach Ben McGuire agreed with that statement and added — “I’ve got everybody back from that team this year, so we’re a more experienced, better hitting, better pitching, better defending team, too.”

As it often goes in fastpitch softball, a team can go as far as the arm of its pitching ace can take it.

The Hematites are up to that task with senior Emma Bleau, who was probably as good this season as any pitcher in the area regardless of division — which could help playing at the Division 4 level in the postseason.

However, there’s two mighty road blocks in Ishpeming’s way of getting to a regional championship — Upper Peninsula small-school powers Rapid River and Rudyard.

The Hematites face the Rockets in this all-U.P. regional in the semifinals at 1 p.m. EDT, with the victor taking on the early-game semifinal winner between Rudyard and Ironwood. The finals are set for 4 p.m. EDT.

McGuire said he doesn’t know much about Ironwood, but thinks Rudyard should be a favorite in that game after the Bulldogs dispatched a good Ishpeming team 6-5 in the regional semis a year ago.

“If we get that far, I feel like we have some good knowledge of their team from last year’s game,” McGuire said.

First, though, is the task of taking on Rapid River.

“I hear this may be one of, if not the best team they’ve had,” the Ishpeming coach said. “They have two really good pitchers, Brittany Schwartz, and a freshman (Natalie Belanger). They played on a travel team (906 Fastpitch) together with Emma.

“And Emma played on a travel team with one of Rudyard’s pitchers about three years ago.”

While the Hematites have a modest 17-12 overall record, the Mid-Peninsula Conference is like playing up in level with a number of Division 3 stalwarts that include Negaunee, Westwood and Gladstone.

Ishpeming got to this point by winning three games last week. The Hematites opened with a four-inning, 16-1 victory over district host Superior Central in a predistrict game on May 29, then dispatched L’Anse 12-7 in the semifinals and Baraga 10-0 in five innings in the championship, both back in Eben on Friday.

The other three regional teams were only asked to win two games last Friday in their districts. RR took care of Stephenson 17-0 in three innings and its district host Norway 7-2, Rudyard knocked off Pickford 19-0 in four innings and its district host Newberry 6-2, while Ironwood beat Hancock 9-7 and its district host Lake Linden-Hubbell 3-1.

The regional champion advances to the MHSAA Division 4 quarterfinals to face the Indian River Inland Lakes regional champion at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Petoskey. That game will be the second half of a doubleheader that opens with a Division 3 quarterfinal that potentially could feature Negaunee.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.