Extend the season: Ishpeming, Negaunee high school softball teams in MHSAA regionals today
“I knew we had the potential to be good and you just never know until you get out there. It’s been great.” — Randy Carlson, head coach, undefeated Negaunee Miners softball team
NEGAUNEE — The Negaunee and Ishpeming softball teams may not have gotten a chance to play last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’ve definitely made up for that lost season this spring.
Both the Miners and Hematites will participate in MHSAA regional tournaments today after winning district titles last week.
Negaunee in Division 3 is headed over the Mackinac Bridge to Boyne City to take on Gladstone at noon, while Ishpeming in Division 4 doesn’t have to go nearly as far, playing at Rapid River and facing Hancock at 12:30 p.m.
If the Miners win, they’ll play either Kalkaska or Charlevoix in the regional final at 2 p.m., while the Hematites by winning would take on either Rudyard or Norway at 3 p.m.
The Hematites got through district play with an easy win over Munising and then gutting out a win over Superior Central. Ishpeming head coach Ben McGuire said he was pleased with how his team fought to the end to win the title over the Cougars.
“In the finals, we got down a couple times to Superior Central and kept battling back and that’s really big for us because at the beginning of the year, we were struggling,” McGuire said. “We were really young and we weren’t battling back. We’d get behind and we’d just, not really pack it in, but we just couldn’t seem to find a way to battle back.
“Lately, the last couple weeks, we’ve really been playing well and playing with a lot of confidence. Every time we get down, we just come right back. I was very pleased about that.”
McGuire also is expecting a tough regional with his team looking for revenge against Hancock.
“We played Hancock twice earlier this year and they beat us twice, but they were both really close games and we felt like we should’ve won them anyway but we didn’t,” he said. “But right now, my kids are playing so much better than they were when we played them the first time.
“I think we have a real good shot of winning that game. After that, Norway and Rudyard are both really, really tough. They’re very athletic and they like to run and they like to steal and bunt and stuff like that. So if we get by the first game, that one’s gonna be a challenge.
“But if we hit the ball like we’ve been hitting it and play defense like we’ve been playing the last couple of weeks, we should have a shot.”
McGuire said his team has also performed better than he thought it would especially after a rough start to the season.
“We started out 0-9 and I knew we would win some games eventually,” he said. “I didn’t know if we would get to the point where we are now. The juniors have really stepped it up and become leaders, and then I’ve got some freshmen and a sophomore that are really playing well, too.”
For the Miners and head coach Randy Carlson, not playing last season was painful. But Carlson said losing this year would’ve been worse due to the large number of upperclassmen Negaunee has on its high-flying team.
While the coach didn’t want to jinx his team by stating its record, he did concede the Miners are still undefeated in “at least 30 games.” When NHS beat Division 2 power Escanaba in what was regarded as an upset on May 21, the Miners were 27-0.
He said he wasn’t sure at the start of the season if his team could make a run like this, but that they’ve surpassed expectations.
“If this (year) would’ve happened like last year, that would’ve been really tough,” he said. “But it was nice because last year, we expected to have a pretty good team and then this year, I figured we’d be solid, but it’s hard to know, because basically a lot of juniors last year and our seniors this year hadn’t played a whole lot of varsity ball.
“So you know they were good players, but they hadn’t played at the varsity level because they missed that whole last year. So we really didn’t know for sure how things were going to go.
“It’s gone better than anybody could’ve expected. I would never anticipate that we’d be playing as well as we have. It’s one of those things again, like I said, I knew we had the potential to be good and you just never know until you get out there. It’s been great.”
The Miners won regional titles in 2018 and 2019 and came within a whisker of making the state quarterfinals in 2019. The fact that it has come so far again shows how strong Negaunee is as a program.
“It definitely does,” Carlson said. “We’ve got basically back-to-back quarterfinals because without anything last year, we had two in a row before that. It’s something that I think is a good measure because we’ve lost really good players each time and you kind of think to yourself how are we going to replace those girls, and then a new class comes in and it’s like we’re able to kind of keep things going.
“So I always look at that, that’s the really good programs whether it’s in college sports, high school sports or whatever. You don’t have to rebuild, you just kind of reload and I feel like we’re kind of at that point where you look on the horizon, even this year, we have some really good seniors, but we have five underclassmen that are in our starting lineup.”
The Miners have all kind of quality players, including a power hitter like Katelyn Lammi and a pitcher like Josie Thomson, but Carlson said it’s been a team effort to get to this point.
“We’re pretty solid throughout,” he said. “We definitely have a couple of really good players, but all through our lineup, it’s kind of like we don’t depend on one person. Just like pitching, too, we’ve got a lot of pitching depth.
“We have a clear No. 1, but then our supporting pitchers are very solid as well and that’s what you need in order to have the kind of season we’ve had, because you play doubleheaders all the time and you can’t just ride one pitcher the entire year.”
It’s not going to be easy to get through regional play as Carlson says it’s going to be a competitive bracket, but the Miners have the ability to continue their run.
“I expect it to be a really good regional just based on, I don’t have a ton of information on the two teams that are from down(state), but from the information I’ve gathered, I think it’s going to be a pretty evenly matched regional,” he said. “Gladstone’s a good team and then, from what I know of Kalkaska and Charlevoix, they’re solid as well.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.