Tough way to go out for Miners

Negaunee succumbs to miscues, Sanford Meridian offense in D-3 quarterfinals

Negaunee pitcher Abby Nelson delivers to a Sanford Meridian batter during their MHSAA Division 3 high school softball quarterfinal game played at Petoskey on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. (Rob Roos photo)

PETOSKEY — It was new territory for the Negaunee Miners softball team.

The Miners ran into some tough competition, falling 10-1 against the Sanford Meridian Mustangs in an MHSAA Division 3 quarterfinal game at the Petoskey High School field Tuesday afternoon.

This marked the first time in the 12 years of the NHS program that the team won district and regional titles, reaching the final eight in the state before its season ended.

Some defensive lapses and a potent Meridian offense were too much for the Miners to overcome. Negaunee finishes 31-8 overall.

“It was uncharted territory for us, and I don’t know if nerves got to us or not, but today just wasn’t our day,” Negaunee coach Randy Carlson said. “We’ve been solid all year defensively, but today we had a couple miscues and we didn’t play like we have been.

“All in all, though, it was a great year,” Carlson said. “The girls have a lot to be proud of.”

Negaunee scored first, getting a run in the top of the third inning. MacKenzie Karki singled, advanced to second on a fielder’s choice, and scored on an RBI single from Katelyn Lammi.

The Miners stranded two runners on base in that inning, however, and they would get very few more chances the rest of the way.

Meridian answered in the bottom of the third as Audrey Kielpinski hit a two-run homer. From there, the Mustangs’ offense came alive, as it scored five runs in the fourth and three more in the fifth to take a 10-1 lead.

That held up as the final score.

The Miners used three pitchers — Skylar Hall, Abby Nelson and Malorie Munson.

The Mustangs had six hits and took advantage of five Miners’ errors. Kielpinski also had a double, finishing 2 for 3, with four RBIs.

“The hitting was contagious today,” Meridian coach Jamie Smith said. “The big home run by Kielpinski kind of sparked us, and the next couple innings we had our offense rolling. Our hitters made some good adjustments against their three different pitchers. We put balls in play, ran the bases well and played good defense.”

Meridian lefthander pitcher Peyton Grice gave up only four hits over seven innings while striking out eight.

Lammi had two of the Miners’ four hits.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t score enough runs either,” Carlson said. “One run usually isn’t going to win. Our bats were solid all year, but they’ve kind of quieted down the last couple weeks. We were fortunate to find a way to win two low-scoring games in the regional. Our bats kind of cooled off at the wrong time.

“We’ll lose five seniors, but the core of our team is young,” Carlson said. “I hope that going to the quarterfinals can become a regular occurrence for us.”

Even when the Miners did hit the ball hard, it seemed to be right at a Meridian player, and the Mustangs turned two double plays to kill potential rallies.

“We have a freshman second baseman and junior shortstop,” Smith said. “Those two are smooth butter. They don’t panic and they work so well together. They make all the plays.”

Meridian makes its first trip to the semifinals in 21 years. The Mustangs (27-14) face Millington in the semifinals at Michigan State University on Friday.

“You get what you put into this sport,” Smith said. “The kids work really hard, and they don’t complain. They always want to stay late after practice. They love to work and it’s paying off.”

Editor’s note: Rob Roos is the sports editor of the Sault News and a former sports writer at The Mining Journal.