LAKE LINDEN - In the batter's box, there's a time to be selective and there's a time to just grip it and rip it.
Wednesday night in the District 11 Major (age 11-12) championship game, Portage Lake first baseman Madelyn Pierner took a called third strike on her first at-bat, but her next attempt was a clout to the fence, and the one after that was a sharp single that put her in position to score the tournament-winning run as her team advanced to the state tournament with a walk-off 5-4 victory.
Baraga County proved an even tougher team to solve than when PL won 6-1 Monday, scoring first Wednesday and hanging in tied 2-2 after three innings. Pierner, hitting left-handed, came up with one out and crushed her pitch.
Portage Lake’s Madelyn Pierner celebrates after scoring the winning run in Wednesday’s District 11 Major softball championship game against Baraga County at the Boneyard in Lake Linden. Pierner scored on a single by Abby Brooks.
"It was a nice pitch and I kind of like higher pitches just since I'm taller, so I liked it and it hit right on a nice spot of the bat," Pierner said.
Despite colliding with the first baseman after rounding the bag, Pierner still easily reached second and was awarded third via obstruction. She scored easily on Josie Connors' groundout.
PL added an insurance run in the fifth on D'Andra Kero's RBI double, but Baraga County tied it up with a gutsy rally in the top of the sixth.
Kailyn Voskuhl singled, then scored when Haley Nankervis tripled past the Portage Lake outfielder to the fence. Nankervis tied the game on a passed ball, but PL pitcher Delaney Heinonen got out of the inning on a grounder to Pierner at first and a strikeout.
Pierner led off the sixth with a single, then stole second. With one out, Ally Ronis laid down a sacrifice bunt and reached safely when Baraga County couldn't decide to risk the throw. Abby Brooks delivered the game-winning bloop single to send Portage Lake to the state tournament, which begins a week from today in downstate Boyne City.
"This team, these girls are so fun to watch. I'm just extremely proud right now," PL manager Sean Connors said.
Baraga County got another strong outing from pitcher Josie Rice and had four hits off Heinonen (as opposed to just one in the first meeting), but it wasn't quite enough.
"We hit the ball better. It seemed like we were kind of shellshocked the first game against her. We don't face too many fast pitchers in our league, so the girls were a little timid, we came out, we relaxed and we actually swung the bat, hit the ball a little bit better," Baraga County coach Darrin Voskuhl said.
In Baraga County, girls play on teams age 9-12, so Voskuhl said matching up with their peers is valuable.
"The fact that they're competing against girls our own age and actually getting down to where situations matter is a huge learning experience for them," he said.
Nankervis had two hits for Baraga County. Rice struck out 11 and walked two.
For PL, Heinonen struck out 11, walked two and hit two batters.
"We're going to stay aggressive on the bases, we're going to stay aggressive at the plate and continue to play solid defense. If we can do those things, I think we'll go far in the tournament," Sean Connors said.
Baraga County reached the championship by beating Keweenaw 12-1 on Tuesday.
Josie Rice threw a no-hitter, striking out seven and walking two in four innings.
A four-run first got them going and a seven-run fourth triggered the run rule. Nankervis, Addison Mattson and Mandy Gransell had hits for the winners.
Keweenaw's lone run came after Vera Peterson drew a leadoff walk in the second inning and came around to score.