PALMER - He wasn't exactly thrilled to lose - twice, in fact - but Ishpeming coach Jeremy Thompson and his Hematites were still excited to play a high school softball doubleheader outdoors on a warm, sunny day in Palmer on Tuesday.
"I wish it would've happened a lot sooner, but it's great to finally get out," he said after the first-year team lost to Negaunee 10-0 and 5-2.
"We've been stuck in the gym. We haven't even been able to have a practice outside with everything full of snow and still all wet."
Ishpeming base runner Gabby Croley, left, leads off while Negaunee first baseman Nicole Richer waits for the pitch to be delivered during the second game of a softball doubleheader played in Palmer Tuesday evening. The host Miners swept a doubleheader as the Hematites played their first outdoor games ever. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
Ishpeming did play three previous games, but they came just over a month ago during the Marquette Senior High School Spring Swing indoors at the Superior Dome.
"It's just not the same conditions inside," Thompson said. "You don't get the same bounce of the ball, let alone all the variations you get on a 'real' field with dirt and grass."
Tuesday's opener, called in the fifth inning due to the 10-run mercy rule, didn't get away from the Hematites because of rust, however.
"We just had a lot of nervous energy amongst the girls that we had to burn off," Thompson said. "Once we got to the second game, I think we relaxed and had more fun and just played the game."
In the nightcap, Ishpeming brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the top of the seventh inning with two outs, but Lindsey Thompson's sharp grounder went directly to Miners shortstop Rosalie Anderson, who flipped the ball to first base to get pitcher Adena Anderson - her younger sister - out of a bases-loaded jam.
"These were important because they were conference games," NHS coach John Anderson said after the Miners improved to 4-0 in the Mid-Peninsula Conference and 6-3 overall.
Unlike Ishpeming, Negaunee has had a varsity softball program for a few years that most of its players have several years experience with.
That plus the Miners had already squeezed in a pair of doubleheaders in the southern Upper Peninsula "banana belt" during the past week, including a split at Rapid River on Monday.
"We're going to play a lot of 'small ball,' like stealing bases and bunts, because we have more speed than I originally thought we had," John Anderson said. "It's important to find whatever way we can to get our leadoff hitter on base each inning."
That added to the pressure on the inexperienced Ishpeming fielders, a number of whom have only played slow-pitch softball before.
"We're teaching them how to step up to fast-pitch. It's just a learning process," Thompson said.
Negaunee was not charged with an error in either game, while Ishpeming committed a total of 11.
And while Miners pitcher Adena Anderson was dominant in the opener, scattering three hits and three walks, sister Rosalie Anderson gave up the first run of the second game on singles by the Hematites' Caitlin Korvela, Emily Myers and Lindsey Thompson in the top of the third.
Negaunee answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning after a bout of wildness by hard-throwing Ishpeming hurler Sinead Korvela, who walked four to set up a two-run single by Amanda Washnock.
That and five errors were how the Miners were able to prevail despite being outhit 5-3.
In the top of the seventh, Adena Anderson, who came in to relieve in the fourth, got the first two Ishpeming batters out with ease.
Then she surrendered singles to Caitlin Korvela and Emily Myers and a walk drawn by Sinead Korvela to load the bases and put the tying run aboard before inducing the game-ending infield bounce out.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.