By Nate Thompson
LAKEVIEW — Had it been a one-game showdown between Montague and Manistee in the Division 3 softball regionals at Lakeview High School, Wildcats coach Doug Rice believed his team could have come out on top.
But relying on sophomore pitcher Courtney Lohman through 14 innings in 90-degree heat in back-to-back games wasn’t the best recipe for success for Montague.
Manistee took advantage of a fatigued Lohman by collecting 10 runs on 10 hits, while the Wildcats’ defense wasn’t at its best in a 10-6 setback in the Division 3 regional finals.
Manistee defeated Ravenna in the first round of the tournament/
The regional championship is just the second in program history for Manistee and the Chippewas’ first since 2011, according to head coach Paul Maksym.
Maksym was feeling awfully good for a couple reasons. He was doused with an ice water bath after the hot and humid victory, and he’ll be leading his 29-7 squad to Tuesday’s state quarterfinal against Gladstone at Traverse City St. Francis High School.
On the other end, Rice had to console a group of Wildcats that tried to rally with a three-run seventh inning, but didn’t quite finish the job.
“We really wanted the tournament in this format, with us going back-to-back, but not in 90-degree weather,” Rice said. “We still battled it out. I really believe it came down to their bunting ability. Our bunt defense just wasn’t at its best. You take away a couple of our errors and it’s a much closer game.”
The Chippewas showed they were more than a small-ball team. Their bunting and strong base running helped them score two in the first inning, but they also had several powerful hits to the outfield that shook the Wildcats.
An RBI triple from Erin VanderWeele helped Manistee grab a 4-0 lead after three, and an RBI double to the fence from sophomore Sara Schaefer started a strong fourth, paving the way for a 6-0 advantage.
Montague got two back in the bottom half of the inning. Allyssa Bobian reached on a single and later scored on a throwing error, and Lohman scored on a fielder’s choice.
But Manistee blew the contest open in the sixth. Senior Mackenzie Thompson’s three-RBI triple to right-center gave the Chippewas’ a commanding 10-3 advantage.
“(Lohman) started to wear down there a little bit,” Rice said. “She lost a little zip on her fastball and lost her ability to hit her location.”
Montague chased out Manistee starting pitcher Thompson with three-straight hits and a run to open the seventh inning. But Manistee junior Sydney Arendt came on in relief and was able to limit the Wildcats to just one more run to clinch the title.
“We’ve really got two strong pitchers and I think that might help us down the road,” Maksym said. “Both of them were phenomenal today.”
Brandi Rice had three hits and two RBIs to lead the Wildcats, while Bobian, Emma Rupert, Sydney Stine, and Chase Jancek each had two hits.
In the semifinals, Manistee turned in a thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Ravenna to advance.
Trailing 2-1 entering the seventh, the Chippewas’ Kelsey Harrigan scored on a suicide-squeeze bunt from VanderWeele to tie the contest. VanderWeele later scored the game-winning run on another squeeze bunt, as she narrowly avoided a tag at the plate from Ravenna pitcher Madison Broton.
In the other semifinal, Montague and Lohman had host Lakeview under wraps nearly all the way, but had to sweat out a nerve-wracking seventh.
Holding a 4-1 lead, Lakeview loaded the bases twice on Lohman, but she surrendered just one run. The steady sophomore forced Lakeview into a pair of infield pop-outs to retire the side and secure the 4-2 victory.