Quieting the bats

Bottari's pitching performance lifts Ishpeming Juniors to state tourney

ISHPEMING — It’s every young baseball player’s dream to throw a no-hitter.

But throwing a no-hitter in a championship game to advance to the state tournament? That’s something Ishpeming pitcher A.J. Bottari can check off his bucket list.

Bottari went the distance at the Ishpeming Ball Field Complex on Monday evening, striking out six and walking four without allowing a hit, helping his team earn a 9-2 victory over Marquette in the Little League District 11 Juniors championship game.

It was Game 3 of a best-of-three series between the two sides with the right to advance to the state tournament in Grand Rapids. Ishpeming took the first game of the series 11-2 on Sunday before Marquette eked out a 13-10 win in the nightcap to force Monday’s decisive contest.

Bottari said he was excited to pick up the win on the mound to help get his team below the Mackinac Bridge, as it’s been a long time coming for various levels of Ishpeming Little League All-Star teams.

“It feels really good because we’ve been waiting a long time for this,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of All-Star seasons losing in the championship game.”

Bottari also credited his team around him on defense, as well as run support on offense.

“We’ve got a good defense and we’ve got some good hitters,” he said. “We’ve got a good defense and we’ve been working on it all year. We’ve had a lot of hard practices just to work up to this moment.”

Ishpeming head coach Mark Bottari credited A.J. for competing under a lot of pressure and said smart decisions from the rest of his team was a key in the win.

“Complete game, he had a lot of pressure on him,” he said. “The team did a great job to pull together. We got our clutch hits, smart base running, and mentally in the field, I thought we did a great job.

“It’s been five years that we’ve been trying to go downstate. We finally get to go. It’s a big deal for this group of kids.”

After Marquette got its Game 2 victory, Coach Bottari said the message to his team was simple: regroup and get back to basics.

“We had a talk with the team before the game started and it was just about going back to fundamentals,” he said. “The game we lost (last night), just flush it and get us behind it. That’s the past, (today) is the future.”

Despite playing a “home” game, Ishpeming was the designated visitor for this one and took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, starting with Hunter Smith driving home Johnny Laurin with a single to center field.

Smith then scored from third on an overthrow from home plate to make it 2-0.

Marquette cracked the scoreboard in the bottom half of the inning when Brody Caster came home to score on a fielder’s choice play. Caster initially reached base on an error at shortstop, while Drew Dellies grounded into a fielder’s choice, which allowed Caster to score.

Both Ishpeming and Marquette added runs in the third to make it a 3-2 game in favor of Ishpeming Ishpeming’s run came on a RBI single from Bottari to bring home Sam Dyer, while Caster scored on an error at first base for Marquette.

Taking that 3-2 lead into the fourth, Ishpeming plated four runs, two coming on wild pitches, one on an error and one on a RBI double from Laurin.

Bottari held Marquette to consecutive 1-2-3 innings after that, and tossed only three pitches in the fifth.

Bottari was forced to play defense himself in the fifth. With Marquette leadoff hitter Isaac Sarles looking to start things off, Sarles lined a rocket right up the middle, which Bottari snagged with his glove for the first out, keeping his no-no intact.

Ishpeming got the last two outs of the frame on a groundout to first and flyout to center field to end the quick three-pitch inning.

Ishpeming added two more insurance runs in the seventh, one a RBI single to right field from Ryan Maki and another being a bases loaded walk.

Bottari and Ishpeming went 1-2-3 again in the seventh with the game ending on a groundout to first base.

Ishpeming finished with seven hits to Marquette’s zero. Marquette committed four errors to Ishpeming’s two.

Bottari was 2 for 4 with an RBI, while Smith went 1 for 4 with an RBI, Maki 1 for 3 with an RBI and Laurin 2 for 3 with two walks.

Matt Johnson started on the mound for Marquette, going four innings and allowing seven runs on three hits, while striking out and walking four. Dellies and Caster came on in relief with Dellies notching three strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings.

According to www.michiganlittleleague.org, Ishpeming begins its state tourney run on July 26, playing the winner of District 7 (Southeast Michigan Region) at 11:30 a.m. in Grand Rapids.

The tournament begins with pool play in a single round robin format with 12 teams per group. There are four groups with with two teams from each group advancing to the single-elimination championship bracket.

Ishpeming begins its journey in Group C.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.