Keep it rolling: MHSAA Division 3 regional tournament a chance for Negaunee Miners to add to first-ever district softball title

Skylar Hall pitches for Negaunee during the MHSAA Division 3 district tournament championship game in high school softball played at Calumet on Saturday. Hall went 4 2/3 innings as a JV call-up in the Miners’ 16-6 victory. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)

“We’ve got to make sure that we jump out earlier and not wait until the 5th or 6th inning to have our bats wake up.” — Randy Carlson, head coach, Negaunee softball

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NEGAUNEE — Today is the last day of school in Negaunee, and on Saturday the Miners softball team has a chance to start its summer on a good note.

Negaunee, which won a district title for the first time in program history on Saturday, will take on Traverse City St. Francis in an MHSAA Division 3 regional semifinal in downstate Charlevoix. If they win that game, they’ll play Gladstone or Boyne City in the championship later that afternoon.

Looking back at that district tournament, Miners head coach Randy Carlson said that his squad looked great against Calumet, but that it took the team awhile to bust loose against Houghton in the championship game.

“We played really well the first game,” he said. “Calumet is a solid team and I’d say we played our ‘A’ game that game.

“The game against Houghton, we struggled a bit. Houghton is a young team and we kind of did what we’ve done a few times this year. We got off to a bit of a slow start and all of a sudden, we explode and that’s what we did.

“It’s worked for us at times, but that’s not the ideal strategy. It’s like you sometimes get to that point where you can feel like you can turn it on when you need to. We’ve got to make sure that we jump out earlier and not wait until the fifth or sixth inning to have our bats wake up.”

When asked about a reason for the slow starts, Carlson said it might be due to the adjustments the Miners have to make for different pitchers, like going from a hard-throwing pitcher to a softer-throwing one.

“I think one of things that we run into a lot this year is that when the other team has their No. 1 pitcher out there, we hit a lot better,” he said. “Then a lot of times, the second pitcher, like Houghton’s pitcher, was slower.

“For some reason, we have difficulty with slower pitching. It takes us awhile and everybody is out on their front foot and just seems like that’s kind of been the struggle. It’s getting our timing down when you come off two different styles of pitching.”

The good thing for the Miners is that they’re so deep that if it does take them awhile to get going offensively, they can erupt quickly.

“We’re pretty solid (one) through nine,” Carlson said of his batting lineup. “Abby (Nelson) has been hitting great all year and so have Hannah (Voskuhl) and Katelyn (Lammi). Peyton (Drew) and Cassidy (Orr) and Mykenna (Kontio) and Kenzie (Karki), too.

“They’ve been exceptional all year. All through our lineup, though, other people have stepped up also. Sometimes I’ve had teams in the past where (Nos.) 1 through 5 and 1 through 6 (are good), but then when you’re 7 through 9 come up, it’s almost like you kind of write those innings off. Now, I feel comfortable with whomever is coming up.”

The Miners will need to get everyone to hit well as they face Traverse City St. Francis first, and Carlson said that the Gladiators have the ability to pile up runs. If Negaunee gets past St. Francis, it has to deal with either a familiar team in Gladstone or another potent program in Boyne City.

“Our first game is against St. Francis and they played Gladstone twice this year and Gladstone beat them both times,” Carlson said. “So there’s a common opponent and that’s the only way you can really judge.

“I’ve seen some of their scores this year and it seems like some of their games are high scoring and that’s what we’re anticipating. Their pitching isn’t overpowering, but they have a good hitting team.

“Gladstone, of course, we know them, and Boyne City, some of the reports that I’ve gotten from people I’ve talked to is that they’re a very good team.

“The only common opponent I know we have with them is they played Rapid River earlier this year and they beat Rapid 9-7. So it was a close game. Comparison-wise, we know that we’ve competed with Gladstone and Rapid. Sometimes you think somebody’s a dominant team, but I don’t think that there’s anybody that’s head and shoulders above the next.”

Regardless of how the Miners perform this weekend, they’ve had a solid year and Carlson said at the start of the season, he knew his team had some talent, but wasn’t sure if his players would click as quickly as they have done.

“Coming in this year, I knew that we had some great players and some real competitors, but we’re a young team,” he said. “So all in all, we’re losing four seniors, but the core of our team is underclassmen.

“I knew we’d be good, but it’s one of those things where being a little bit younger, you don’t always know how it’s going to turn out. I had high expectations but I didn’t know if we’d be as good as we are as soon as we were.”

First pitch against TCSF is at 10 a.m. with the championship set for 2 p.m.

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