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Todd Rose | Daily Press Rapid River’s Cecilia Pilon lines up a shot against Norway on Friday at Bark River during the MHSAA Division 3 District 99 Championship game.

BARK RIVER – The Norway Knights took on the challenge of the Bark River-Harris Broncos and Rapid River Rockets on Friday afternoon at Bark River to become the 2021 MHSAA Division 4 District 99 Champions.

The Knights first beat the Broncos 11-5 and then the Rockets 10-0.

“People don’t realize it’s not that easy to find” Knights coach Robert Bal said. “I’m not going to lie, I was very nervous when I woke up this morning.”

Kali Stanchina started both matches for Norway. In the title contest, she whipped up eight Rockets at home, allowing just three hits for zero points.

Offensively, a four-point third set propelled Norway into the lead and there was no turning back.

“I can’t say enough about (Kali Stanchina)”, said Bal. “She turned on the lights for both games. … I (told her) ‘Kali, if they both play seven innings, you throw both games.’

“Like they say, ‘You dance with the one you brought.'”

Stanchina’s pitcher support was a solid defense that made several displays of defensive prowess, including a smooth double play and a diving snag down center by Donna VanHolla.

“Donna had the dive caught in center field, then that double play; a ground player to our pitcher and she turns and throws it too short… there aren’t a lot of double plays in softball in high school because it’s just a short field, ” said Bal. “To get it, it’s huge. It’s a momentum lever for us and a momentum defender for them.

The Rockets’ pitcher was Natalie Bélanger, whose high school education and future college career Bal held in high regard.

In his last high school softball game, Bélanger struck out six Knights hitters. She also made an impressive play – similar to one from earlier in the season – to catch Taylor Adams on the verge of scoring for the out.

The ball – on Hannah Burkland’s stick – was picked up by Bélanger who pretended first and then turned to mark Adams halfway between third and home.

“Hats off to Natalie too,” said Bal. “I spoke to her after the game and she said, ‘Some days it’s not your day.'”

“I said, ‘I’ll see you next year in Bay. I’ll come down and watch you. She’s a great kid. I think of everyone about her.

The Knights’ tenth run – in the fifth inning – sealed Norway’s victory via the rule of leniency.

VanHolla hit a flying ball that fell in play to clear the way for Stanchina through the plate for the winning run.

The district title was one of two for the Knights on Friday as the Norwegian baseball team – moments after the softball game ended – won their game against Bark River-Harris to also claim a trophy.

For the Rockets, the season is coming to an end.

“Norway are catching diving in center field, making double plays when we finally had a runner… they were definitely the better team today,” Rapid River coach George Kanyuh said. “They deserve to win.

“We were optimistic coming in today that we improved a bit, and I still think we have. But the girls were never on the right track… Long and short, they played a better game. “

The Rockets’ hits were Bélanger, Cecilia Pilon and McKenzi Schram.

While the scoreboard may not have reflected it, Kanyuh said the team has improved throughout the season.

“We haven’t shown it today. But, I am not lying when I say that we are better than two months ago. But I’m sure every team can tell. he said. “It has been a tough battle all year round for us and I guess today we just didn’t make it to the top of the hill as we thought.”

In the opening game of the day, it was the Bark River-Harris Broncos who lost.

Like Rapid River, the Broncos have also grown throughout the year, Bark River coach Rob Arndt said.

“We started the season and we were pretty green”, Arndt said. “We had a lot of learning to do, a lot of work where we just had to work on the basics.

“At the end of the season I think we kind of had our basics that I was pretty comfortable with. Today we just haven’t played. I was happy with the way we hit the ball, but we just didn’t make the plays we should have on defense.

Just being able to play – unlike last year – was a win of sorts for the Arndts and Broncos.

“It was great to be there on the pitch” he said. “I know the girls were all excited… Just to see the looks on the children’s faces, to go out and win wins, just to go out, play ball and have fun, that was fun.”

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