Chippewas Champions again

 

Manistee’s softball team poses with their second consecutive district trophy after defeating Grand Traverse Academy and Traverse City St. Francis on Saturday. The Chippewas will face Boyne City in the regional semifinals on Saturday, June 10. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Manistee’s softball team poses with their second consecutive district trophy after defeating Grand Traverse Academy and Traverse City St. Francis on Saturday. The Chippewas will face Boyne City in the regional semifinals on Saturday, June 10. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

TRAVERSE CITY — Manistee has taken its second consecutive Division 3 district softball championship after defeating Grand Traverse Academy and Traverse City St. Francis on Saturday. Manistee defeated GTA 14-4  in the semifinal and St. Francis 5-1 to bring home the hardware.

Pitching and defense carried the Chippewas to victory, extending their 2017 season on the same field where their 2016 campaign ended, and did it by limiting their two district foes to just one earned run each.

Niki Zimmerman picked up the win in the circle in the district semifinal and Sydney Arendt in the final, which took place at St. Francis, where Manistee fell in last year’s quarterfinals.

Arendt said that the team remembered.

“On the bus on the way here we were mentioning it,” Arendt said. “We were not about to let history repeat itself here.

“It feels great to be back here. It’s great to have this for the second time in a row, we’ve worked so hard to get here. It’s so nice to see the team come together and get a win like this.”

Manistee wasted no time booking their place in the final, taking a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning against Grand Traverse Academy, and cruising from there. The Chippewas banged out 14 hits in the game.

Arendt drove in 4 runs in the game and scored 3 more, getting on base with 2 doubles and a walk. Sara Schaefer had 4 hits including a triple, Erin Vander Weele had a single and two walks and scored all three times, Zimmerman helped her own cause with 2 hits and drove in 2 runs and Emma Witkowski had 2 hits and scored 2 runs.

Zimmerman scattered 4 hits and walked one while striking out 5 batters in the semifinal, which saw the Chippewas commit 4 fielding errors behind her.

But the defense apparently got the errors out of their system in the semifinal, and visibly stepped up a notch in the final. What had been something of a weakness all season became a strength at just the right time.

“The girls played almost an error-free game,” Manistee head coach Paul Maksym said. “Nobody counted us in, we just don’t quit. We tend to surprise a lot of people.”

The final started out inauspiciously for the Chippewas, who advanced runners to third base in each of the first two innings but came away empty both times.

St. Francis opened each of the first two innings with extra-base hits, and took the lead in the second with a leadoff triple followed by a single that gave them a 1-0 lead.

That lead would not last long, as Arendt gave herself all the runs she would need in the third with a double over the centerfielder’s head that brought home Witkowski and Vander Weele and gave her team a 2-1 lead.

Arendt took over from there, allowing just three hits the rest of the way, two of which did not leave the infield. Arendt struck out 4 Gladiators, who continually put the ball in play, but came away with almost nothing to show for it.

“I loved having the defense behind me making plays,” Arendt said. “I was so comfortable with them, I felt comfortable throwing my game. We’ve come so far, we’ve improved a lot, and I’m so proud of how we’ve come together as a team.”

Manistee was gifted three runs without the benefit of a hit in the fifth inning, when St. Francis pitcher Molly Mirabelli walked five batters and hit another to make the score 5-1.

Mirabelli had also pitched in the semifinals, when St. Francis overturned a 10-2 deficit with 4 runs in the sixth inning and 5 in the seventh to take an emotional 11-10 walk-off win.

Maksym said that having more than one go-to hurler was a factor in the district title and could be a bellweather for a deeper tournament run.

“You saw what happened to their pitcher, she just kind of wore down, the heat got to her,” he said. “We have two or three pitchers, and we’re going to utilize that same tool when we go up to regionals.”

With the district win, Manistee advances to the Division 3 regionals at Boyne City. The Chippewas will face the host, Boyne City, in the semifinals and would face either Grayling or Gladstone in the regional final. Gladstone ended Manistee’s season in last year’s state quarterfinals.

Arendt said that this team can duplicate last year’s regional title.

“If we’re all on our game together and working together, we can,” she said. “For sure.”

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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