Six-run 6th inning propels Negaunee into semifinals at state tournament

ESCANABA – The Negaunee Minors Little League All-Stars found a way to stay alive in the state softball tournament, outlasting Clare 11-9 Tuesday in a quarterfinal contest held at Escanaba’s Lemerand Park.

The Negaunee 9- and 10-year-old girls, fueled by a big sixth inning for the second straight day, advanced to today’s semifinals against Grandville at noon. That contest was to be preceded by the Jackson Northwest-Hillman matchup at 10 a.m.

Negaunee erased a 6-5 deficit by scoring six times in the top of the sixth, taking advantage of five walks and a hit batter.

Clare, however, trimmed it to 11-7 on a bases-loaded walk to Monica McPhall and finished the scoring on Nicole Taylor’s two-run single to right field.

The downstate team appeared ready to close the gap further with baserunners on second and third with one out.

But Negaunee pitcher Larissa Anderson retired the final two hitters to preserve the victory.

“No lead is safe in this tournament,” Negaunee manager Mark Menhennick said. “This is similar to (Monday’s) game where we gained a lot of momentum in the sixth inning. I was actually calling for the girls to take a lot of pitches. They had a good pitcher, but it looked like she was getting tired.”

On Monday, Negaunee scored four runs in the sixth to seal its 11-5 victory over Kingsford.

And on Tuesday, Negaunee also took advantage of opportunities in the fourth, scoring three times on four walks and an error for a 5-3 lead.

Clare, fueled by Leah Palmer’s two-run single to right, came back with three runs in the fifth and retook a 6-5 lead.

“We hit the ball a ton and they made a lot of good plays,” Clare manager Bob Tocco said. “They’re a tough team. They have two or three powerhouse hitters we needed to work around. Their third-baseman (Karlie Patron) is a load. We definitely tried to work around her.”

Patron, who ripped a double to right for a 1-0 lead in the first, finished with two hits.

Clare pitcher Brooklyn Tocco then walked Patron twice and retired her on a grounder in her last plate appearance.

Taylor had three and Palmer added two of Clare’s nine hits off Anderson.

But Negaunee shortstop Allie Ennett backed Anderson with six put-outs, including three straight in the opening frame. Her teammates did likewise.

“Allie had whale of a game,” Menhennick said. “Every time the ball was hit to her, she sucked it up. I think the first inning set the tone for Allie. That helped her and the other girls relax.”

The Clare manager was also impressed with Ennett, who robbed Jalyn Burhans of a possible extra-base hit by snagging a line shot in the second after Clare had taken a 2-1 lead.

“She (Ennett) fielded a lot of balls for them, which kind of got our girls down,” Bob Tocco said. “We were hitting the ball and she kept making plays.”

Anderson pitched the entire contest for the win. She struck out five and walked six.

Brooklyn Tocco absorbed the loss despite tossing a three-hitter. She fanned 10, but walked 14 and hit two batters.

Clare committed three errors and Negaunee had just one miscue.