Preview: Reigning Champs, Stars Return
Preview: Reigning Champs, Stars Return
Softball
Posted Wednesday, June 15, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A pair of reigning MHSAA softball champions and three of the best-known players in all of Michigan will be among those most anticipated at this weekend's Semifinals and Finals at Michigan State University's Secchia Stadium.

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and Unionville-Sebewaing in Division 4 are back seeking repeat championships, led by arguably the top two pitchers in the state. Farmington Hills Mercy is back seeking the title in Division 1, powered by one of the top hitters in MHSAA history. 

See below for a schedule of this weekend’s games, plus glances at all 16 teams that will take the field beginning Thursday.

Semifinals – Thursday
Division 1
Midland vs. Macomb Dakota, 10 a.m.
Mattawan vs. Farmington Hills Mercy, 12:30 p.m.

Division 2
Vicksburg vs. Livonia Ladywood, 3 p.m.
Escanaba vs. Richmond, 5:30 p.m.

Semifinals – Friday
Division 3
Millington vs. Grandville Calvin Christian, 10 a.m.
Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central vs. Gladstone, 12:30 p.m.

Division 4
Unionville-Sebewaing vs. Morenci, 3 p.m.
Indian River Inland Lakes vs. Holton, 5:30 p.m.

Finals – Saturday
Division 1: 10 a.m.
Division 2: 12:30 p.m.
Division 3: 3 p.m.
Division 4: 5:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $8 per round and include admission to baseball and girls soccer games those days also at MSU’s Old College Field. Radio broadcasts of all games can be heard online at MHSAAnetwork.com. All games will be streamed live online at MHSAA.TV and viewable on subscription basis. Click to order tickets in advance and for a parking map

All statistics below are through Regionals. (Click for links to brackets and scores.)

Division 1

FARMINGTON HILLS MERCY
Record/rank: 41-2, No. 2
Coach: Alec Lesko, second season (67-5)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2002.
Players to watch: Abby Krzywiecki, sr. 1B/P (.565, 20 HR, 16 2B, 90 RBI, 56 R; 12-1, 1.69 ERA pitching); Sophia VanAcker, jr. CF (.534, 54 R, 13 SB); Andrea Elmore, sr. P/1B (28-1, 1.18 ERA, 218 K pitching).
Outlook: Mercy made the Semifinals last season for the first time since 2003 and returns a number of key pieces including its top pitcher and a record-setting slugger. Krzywiecki’s 20 home runs are the most in one season in MHSAA history, and she made the all-state team last season while VanAcker and Elmore earned honorable mention. The lineup is loaded with strong hitters, with sophomore catcher Anna Dixon (.475) another of the best this spring.

MACOMB DAKOTA
Record/rank: 37-2, No. 1
Coach: Rick Fontaine, 12th season (245-157)
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Kendahl Dunford, jr. P (.345, 7 HR, 37 RBI; 33-2, 1.39 ERA, 212 K pitching); Corbin Hison, soph. SS (.433, 42 R, 16 2B, 36 RBI); Kelcie LaTour, sr. 1B (.468, 43 R, 12 2B, 11 HR, 49 RBI).
Outlook: Dakota has followed up its first Regional title with a first trip to the Semifinals, and its only losses this season were to No. 6 Lake Orion and Division 4 favorite Unionville-Sebewaing. Six players hit at least .400 and 13 at least .300; juniors Claire Hamlin (.516) and Julia Salisbury (.474) top that incredible list. Dunford also earned all-state honorable mention in 2015.

MIDLAND
Record/rank: 36-7, No. 7
Coach: Robin Allen, sixth season (146-66)
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League North
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Maya Kipfmiller, jr. P/1B (.670, 23 2B, 38 RBI; 24-4, 0.65 ERA, 217 K pitching); Julia Gross, jr. SS (.493, 59 R, 19 2B, 20 SB, 57 RBI); Nicole Miiller, soph. C (.431, 46 RBI).
Outlook: After also making the Quarterfinals a year ago, Midland took the next step this week earning its first Semifinal berth since 1988. The Chemics eliminated honorable mentions Bay City Western and Marquette during their history-making run. Kipfmiller is a force in the circle and the batter’s box; she also had 17 doubles last season as a sophomore. The team has two more .400 hitters (Jillian Elmer at .462 and Tara Gross at .409) and another pair who hit at least .360.

MATTAWAN
Record/rank: 32-8, No. 4
Coach: Alicia Smith, 16th season (432-185-1)
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2013), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Genny Soltesz, sr. 2B (.559, 53 R, 15 SB); Joanna Bartz, jr. 3B (.489, 51 R, 13 2B, 8 HR, 52 RBI); Meaghan Markus, jr. CF (.418, 43 R, 11 2B, 11 HR, 46 RBI)
Outlook: Mattawan has made the Semifinals five of the last six seasons, winning Division 1 in 2011 and 2013, and has four all-staters back from the team that advanced a year ago – Soltesz, Bartz, shortstop Alexis Taube (.402) and outfielder Sarah Hillsburg (.388). Total, six regulars are hitting at least .400, including also Mackenzie Swinehart (.444, 40 R) and Emily Koperdak (.416, 37 RBI). Koperdak also is the ace pitcher at 26-2 with a 1.74 ERA entering this week. 

Division 2

ESCANABA
Record/rank: 35-2-1, No. 3
Coach: Jamie Segorski, second season (64-10-1)
League finish: Does not compete in a league. 
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2003.
Players to watch: Kathleen Ross, jr. CF (.469, 30 R, 16 2B, 61 RBI); Emily Bruntjens, jr. DP (.463, 45 R); Taylor Rathe, jr. P (.455, 42 R, 10 2B, 34 RBI).
Outlook: After reaching the Quarterfinals for the fourth time in five seasons, Escanaba broke through by downing top-ranked Saginaw Swan Valley 5-2 on Tuesday. Although a good part of the nucleus is made up of juniors, they also eliminated No. 7 Muskegon Oakridge along the way and won’t be fazed by the big stage. Middle infielders Taylor Gauthier (.423) and Callie Heller (.410) both also hit at least .400 as the team checks in at an overall .387 clip.

LIVONIA LADYWOOD
Record/rank: 32-12, No. 2
Coach: Scott Combs, eighth season (career record N/A)
League finish: Third in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2012, two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Alex Flores, sr. P/1B; Rozlyn Price, sr. P; Erika Selakowski, sr. 2B. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Ladywood is back after missing the Semifinals last season but making them every season from 2011-14. Price was the pitcher as well when the team finished Division 2 runner-up in 2014 and Selakowski also was a top hitter, and they help lead a team that starts four seniors but also three sophomores. Ladywood has scored 11 or more runs in four of six postseason games after battling through a Catholic League Central that included Mercy and reigning Division 1 champion Warren Regina.  

RICHMOND
Record/rank: 30-9, honorable mention
Coach: Howard Stuart, 38th season (952-288)
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Championship history: Three runner-up finishes (most recent 1999).
Players to watch: Carley Barjaktarovich, soph. SS (.520, 52 R, 21 SB); Lindsay Schweiger, sr. 2B (.420, 31 R, 19 RBI); Allison Swantek, sr. P/OF (.349, 26 RBI; 10-4, 2.48 ERA, 60 K pitching).  
Outlook: Richmond is making its first Semifinal appearance since 2005 but is led by one of the state’s winningest coaches; this will be Stuart’s eight semifinalist team. Richmond has given up three runs over five tournament games, and freshman Erin Shuboy (14-3, 1.15 ERA, 176 K) is scheduled to get the start in the circle. She also hits .348 and bats cleanup for a team with seven hitting .300 or higher.

VICKSBURG
Record/rank: 35-8, unranked
Coach: Paul Gephart, fourth season (111-41)
League finish: First in Wolverine B Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Carlie Kudary, jr. CF (.566, 58 R, 13 2B, 42 RBI, 29 SB); Grace Stock, jr. C (.516, 53 R, 17 2B, 57 RBI); Shaidan Knapp, jr. SS (.490, 53 R, 17 2B, 49 RBI).
Outlook: Vicksburg might be considered one of the surprises of the spring after eliminating reigning champion Wayland in the Quarterfinal – but shouldn’t be. The Bulldogs have added to their win total each of the last three seasons, and the team batting average is .433 with all but two of 11 players hitting at least .300. Vicksburg also beat No. 9 St. Joseph on the way to its first Regional title. Sophomore Avery Slancik is 22-4 with a 1.99 ERA pitching and also hits .468. 

Division 3

GLADSTONE
Record/rank: 27-13, honorable mention
Coach: Ashley Hughes, third season (81-29-2)
League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Morgan Kowalski, sr. C (.393, 34 RBI); Tasi Martinez, jr. 1B (.440, 9 HR, 36 RBI); Jenna Steinhoff, jr. P (.327, 30 RBI; 16-9, 2.56 ERA, 119 K pitching).
Outlook: Gladstone has won 11 of its last 12 since getting swept by Division 2 semifinalist Escanaba near the end of the regular season, and more than half of its losses were to either the Eskymos or Division 1 honorable mention Marquette. The Braves also will value the veteran experience of Kowalski and third baseman Sam Sailer, who both started in the 2014 championship game win. Seven regulars bat at least .300, and lead-off hitter Alyssa Polley (.351) also saw time in that Final as a pinch runner.

GRANDVILLE CALVIN CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 32-10, unranked
Coach: Mike Gruppen, fifth season (126-49)
League finish: First in O-K Silver
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1993), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Kaleigh Whitcomb, soph. P (.621, 40 R, 17 2B, 12 HR, 71 RBI; 21-8, 1.67 ERA, 210 K pitching); Marissa VanDenBerg, sr. SS/C (.514, 68 R, 34 2B, 63 RBI, 19 SB); Sarah Elderkin, soph. 3B/P (.402, 29 R, 21 RBI, 16 SB).
Outlook: This weekend’s Division 3 bracket includes teams that either are regulars or look good to be back soon, and count Calvin Christian among those that look solid to return over the next couple of seasons. Although VanDenBerg earned all-state honorable mention last season, she’s one of only two seniors – with the roster also including only two juniors, but 10 sophomores. VanDenBerg’s 34 doubles are one shy of tying the MHSAA single-season record, and Whitcomb looks like she’ll have a few entries as well before her career is done.

MILLINGTON
Record/rank: 42-1, No. 5
Coach: Greg Hudie, seventh season (150-81)
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference East
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Sydney Bishop, fr. C (.635, 63 R, 16 2B, 14 HR, 78 RBI); Taylor Wright, sr. P/IF/OF (.421, 31 RBI; 21-0, 0.56 ERA, 188 K pitching); Cally Cunningham, jr. LF (.454, 11 2B, 53 R, 47 RBI).  
Outlook: This is Millington’s first run past the Regional round, and the numbers are staggering. The Cardinals haven’t given up a run in six tournament games, including a shutout of No. 10 Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest, and have 27 shutouts this spring. The only loss was to Division 1 No. 10 Canton early, and the team has only two seniors – but eight freshmen, including five who start. Six regulars hit at least .400, including also freshmen Hallie Maurer (.450) and Gabbie Sherman (.432) and junior Taylor Rueger (.472) – and six have driven in at least 40 runs.  

MONROE ST. MARY CATHOLIC CENTRAL
Record/rank: 26-5, No. 1
Coach: John Morningstar, second season (63-10)
League finish: First in Huron League
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2015, three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Meghan Beaubien, jr. P; (.478, 4 HR, 37 R; 20-1, 0.25 ERA, 352 K pitching); Kenna Garst, soph. C (.394, 8 HR, 40 RBI, 34 R); Kelsey Barron, soph. SS (.395, 21 R, 4 HR).
Outlook: The reigning champion has one of the most heralded players in Michigan in Beaubien, who has committed to University of Michigan already and threw her team to last year’s title. She also leads off, with the next eight batters including only one senior – meaning they’ll continue to be favored in 2017 as well. The Kestrels beat No. 8 Grass Lake, No. 4 Clinton and No. 2 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett by a combined score of 18-3 over the last three games. 

Division 4

HOLTON
Record/rank: 29-12, No. 7
Coach: Kirk Younts, second season (66-13)
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Silver
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Morgan Murat, fr. C (.397, 38 R, 35 RBI); Emily Larabee, jr. CF (.520, 45 R, 22 RBI, 41 SB); Shelbey Younts, jr. LF (.373, 33 R, 22 RBI).
Outlook: Holton has reached the Semifinals three straight seasons, advancing this week with a 6-3 win over No. 1 Coleman in the Quarterfinal. The team lost three players who earned all-state recognition last season but filled in with new standouts and plenty who will be around past this year, with only three seniors in the starting lineup. Freshman Haylee Brant and junior Mikaela Baker have split most of the pitching, and both entered this week with 11 wins.

INDIAN RIVER INLAND LAKES
Record/rank: 25-2, No. 5
Coach: Krissi Thompson, 13th season (record N/A)
League finish: First in Ski Valley Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Cloe Mallory, jr. P; Sydney Depauw, soph. OF/3B. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Inland Lakes just missed advancing to the Semifinals last season, losing in the Quarterfinal in extra innings, but beat No. 6 Rogers City 8-7 to move on this time and for the first time since 1999. The Bulldogs beat their other four postseason opponents by a combined score of 32-2.

MORENCI
Record/rank: 25-14, unranked
Coach: Kay Johnson, 44th season (862-483)
League finish: Fourth in Tri-County Conference
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1986), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Madysen Schmitz, soph. OF (.449, 46 R, 14 SB); Daelyn Merillat, fr. C (.432, 46 R, 42 RBI); Allison VanBrandt, sr. SS/P (.403, 37 R, 10 2B, 25 RBI, 12-8 pitching).
Outlook: Morenci is a great story, returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 1994 and seeking its first championship game appearance since winning back-to-back Class C titles in 1985-86. Johnson’s 44th team at the school has only one senior, VanBrandt, and 14 underclassmen – and won a third-straight Regional title. Junior Mikayla Price is the likely starter in the circle with an 11-3 record and 2.73 ERA.

UNIONVILLE-SEBEWAING
Record/rank: Record N/A, No. 2
Coach: Steve Bohn, fifth season (record N/A)
League finish: N/A, Greater Thumb Conference West
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Nicole Bauer, sr. P; Kayla Gremel, sr. 2B. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Bauer has signed with Stanford and is among the premier players in Michigan, regardless of division. She and Gremel both made the all-state team last season. USA has given up only one run over four tournament games, including a 3-0 shutout against No. 8 Waterford Our Lady.

PHOTO: A Holton runner attempts to slide in safely during her team's Quarterfinal win over top-ranked Coleman in Division 4 on Tuesday. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)


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