UP Softball All-Star Games: Girls get another chance to shine on diamond
NEGAUNEE — One final time.
One final time for power hitters to put the bat to the ball. One final time for pitcher’s to get that crucial strikeout. One final time for infielders to have dust kicked up in their face as they try to tag a sliding runner out. One final time for outfielders to make that glorious game-saving catch.
Maybe more importantly, it was one final time for Upper Peninsula high school softball seniors to bond together and compete against one another during the annual U.P. Softball All-Star Games.
This year’s edition was hosted at LaCombe Field in Negaunee, comprised of teams North and South, made up of over 30 senior players from over 10 different schools across the U.P.
The North was coached by Negaunee’s Randy Carlson and Hancock’s Randy Heinonen, while the South was led by Norway’s Bob Bal and Bark River-Harris’ Jen Goodrich.
The South side prevailed 11-8 in a 7-inning offensive shootout in Game 1, and also claimed Game 2 12-6.
Carlson said although the game is meaningless for practical purposes, the competitive spirit of an athlete never dies down.
“It’s fun because you don’t really know how the girls are going to play it,” he said. “But you could see it right away. Once they get on the field, that’s it. They come in and it’s a little more relaxed beforehand, but once the game starts the competitive juices kick in and it’s like they never missed a beat.”
While Carlson had seven of his Miners players at his team’s disposal, he and his co-coach Heinonen also had several new faces to work with, ranging anywhere from Marquette, Ishpeming, Westwood and Hancock.
That gave Carlson and Heinonen a bit of a challenge, but things eventually clicked after giving up four runs in the first inning of Game 1.
“That first inning, they got four runs on a little flair over second base,” Carlson said. “A lot of that is just girls not used to playing with each other. It’s pretty informal but it’s fun though. You like to see girls compete and they’re treating it just like a regular game which is good.”
The games also had strength in numbers, with the 30-plus total being the largest turnout Carlson can remember.
“It’s nice to see,” he said. “This is a big group. This is a lot of seniors to have 31 or 32 girls. It kind of shows how much softball is growing. There’s always been really good players, but the depth of it now is a lot deeper and that’s cool to see.”
Bal, who coached in last year’s game which his Norway Knights hosted, said it was fun to coach players from teams ranging from Divisions one through four.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s pretty interesting because you’re playing with girls from divisions one, two three and four. The Escanaba girls (Georiga Lehton, Heather Bergstron and Lexi Chaillier), they just won a state title and it’s pretty cool playing with three of those girls today.
“Everybody mixed well. Everyone played multiple innings and we batted through the roster, which is something you don’t do very often unless its little league or something. It was fun, a good turnout and a lot of people here.”
The South consisted of players from Escanaba, Bark River-Harris, Manistique, Norway, Rapid River and Newberry.
Local players featured in the doubleheader, who all played for the North side, included Negaunee players Hannah Voskuhl, Abby Nelson, Cassidy Orr, Hannah Voskuhl, Kaleigh Duncan, MacKenzie Karki, MyKenna Kontio and Payton Drew. Ishpeming brought Madison Pruett and Willow LaChapelle. Marquette had Lexi Trombley and Taylor Myers while Westwood was represented by Katie Wiljanen and Raija Stille.
Nelson took the mound for the North siders in Game 1, and despite the loss, it was emotional to take the diamond one final time.
“We were all talking before the game how it’s a little sad that we’re putting it on for the last time,” she said. “We’re all really thankful that there’s this opportunity to get out there one more time with your teammates, and kind of get to know some new girls. You can just have some fun and there’s less pressure.”
Nelson will hang up the cleats, but continue her education in Duluth in the fall.
South side and Norway player Allison Sheski agreed with Nelson’s sentiment, calling the games a bittersweet moment for her, her Knights teammates and every girl who partook in the game.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s also really nice to be able to get together with all these girls we’ve played against all year,” she said. “Then come together as a team and know each others strategies, it’s been a lot of fun.”
Sheski also has no future softball plans for the time being, but will continue her education at Kent State University.
Full stats weren’t available from the games.