Portagers fall to Holton in regional championship

Onekama wins semifinal in walk-off fashion

HOLTON — The Onekama softball team was in uncharted territory on Saturday in Holton, seeking a program-first regional title after winning a district that’s been elusive for decades.

The Portagers, however, certainly didn’t look the part of newcomers as they won their opening game, 4-3, against Marion for a berth in the afternoon’s Division 4 regional championship. Unfortunately for Onekama, though, tournament host Holton was too much to overcome in a 10-2 defeat.

“All in all, it was a great season,” said Portagers coach Rob Johnson. “I don’t think anyone expected us to be in regionals, and certainly not in the championship game. We represented Onekama very well down there, and I couldn’t be more proud of the girls.”

The Portagers earned their spot in Saturday’s regional tournament by capturing a district championship the weekend prior, with wins over Manistee Catholic Central (21-0) and Bear Lake (1-0).

Despite losing to their regional semifinal opponent, Marion, in the regular season, Onekama was ready for the Eagles on Saturday.

The Portagers were quick to strike, scoring the game’s first two runs in the opening frame off a two-run single by senior catcher Hope Showalter.

Marion got a run back in the top of the second — scoring on a wild pitch — but the Portagers regained the two-run lead in the bottom of the third as Kaylin Sam knocked an RBI single to make it 3-1.

The teams held each other scoreless through the next three frames, as Onekama pitcher Sophie Wisniski was particularly solid in the circle.

In the top of the seventh and final inning, however, the Eagles made things interesting by taking advantage of an Onekama fielding error and scoring two runs on the play, to knot the game at 3-3.

The Portagers didn’t let that deflate their spirits, though, and responded with a walk-off win in their next at-bats.

With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Onekama’s Hanna Hughes singled with a hard ground ball to centerfield.

“We got Hanna on, and she stole second too,” Johnson said.

Onekama’s Ella Acton was up next and singled on what Johnson described as a swinging bunt.

“She kind of topped the ball and their third baseman was playing back, so with Ella’s speed she beat the throw,” he said. “(While that was happening) I sent Hanna home.

“There was a play at the plate, but they called her safe and we won.”

Hughes, Acton, Wisniski, Sam and Showalter each had a hit in the contest. In the circle, Wisniski allowed just one earned run on one hit and six walks while striking out 12.

“That first game was a good game,” Johnson said. “We played good ball, other than that one inning with a couple of miscues, but all year long these girls never gave up in those tight spots.”

With the win, the Portagers moved on to the regional title game. But Holton proved to be a buzzsaw.

Both teams were scoreless after two innings, but the Red Devils plated three runs in the third and scored steadily from there.

“Holton’s a pretty strong team,” Johnson said. “For two innings it was 0-0, but then they got a couple baserunners on, we made a couple mistakes, had a couple calls that didn’t go our way, and they kept adding on.

“We battled back in the sixth a bit, and got a couple runs, but it just wasn’t enough.”

Onekama’s Kylie Gramza drew a bases-loaded walk in the sixth to put her team on the board, making it 9-1 Holton. With the bases still loaded, Wisniski scored on a groundout to make it 9-2, but the rally would end there.

Showalter led the Portagers at the plate with a pair of hits, including a double, while Wisniski had a hit and a Gramza and Ashley McGrady each had an RBI.

Wisniski threw another complete game, allowing 10 runs (three earned) on eight hits and five walks while striking out seven.

“Sophie had a solid performance, in both games,” Johnson said. “When you come up against a team that’s hitting the ball as hard as Holton, it can seem like you’re stuck in that circle for a long time, especially when it’s hot.

“But she did a phenomenal job for us today.”

Despite falling short of the regional title, Johnson said he’s very pleased with his team’s play this season, especially down the stretch.

“As coaches, we look at the little things and over the course of the year the girls were doing more and more of those things right,” he said. “When you start the season with a big list, that can take awhile. And with the weather the way it was (this season) — and no consistency in the schedule because of Mother Nature — it was kind of a challenge, but the girls kept plugging away.

“By the time districts came around, we were playing some OK ball. And today, we were really playing sharp,” he added. “I think we peaked at the right time, but we weren’t quite powerful enough to win it.”

Onekama says goodbye to a pair of seniors in Showalter and Katie Magnan.

“Hat’s off to them,” Johnson said. “They’ve been the glue of the team through the valleys and the peaks and will be sorely missed. We’ve got some big shoes to fill there, but we’ll get after it.”

For the rest of the squad, there’s certainly promise for even better things to come.

“Those young girls don’t know yet how much they learned today, just by being down there in the regional,” Johnson said. “When we go back, it’ll be more familiar, more comfortable, and they’ll play even better ball. They might not know that yet, but next year they’ll realize what the whole scope of today was all about: experience. So, we’re looking forward to that.”

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