Gaylord softball

Softball

Preview: Championship Roads Lead to Secchia Stadium

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

June 16, 2021

Teams, and their fans following them, tend to bring a little added excitement when making their first trip to the MHSAA Finals.

And Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium should be buzzing for this weekend’s Softball Semifinals & Finals.

Three of this weekend’s 16 contenders are making the trip to the final weekend for the first time, and three more for the first time since the 1980s or 90s. Nine teams total are seeking to play in a championship game for the first time. A 10th team is seeking its first title after two runner-up finishes.

Division 1 - Thursday
Grandville vs. South Lyon - 3 p.m.
Allen Park vs. Farmington Hills Mercy - 5:30 p.m.

Division 2 – Thursday
Gaylord vs. Owosso - 10 a.m.
Chelsea vs. Marysville - 12:30 p.m.

Division 3 - Friday
Standish-Sterling vs. Buchanan - 3 p.m.
Clinton vs. Richmond - 5:30 p.m.

Division 4 - Friday 
Rudyard vs. Holton - 10 a.m.
Bridgman vs. Unionville-Sebewaing - 12:30 p.m.

FINALS - June 19
Division 1 – 12:30 p.m.
Division 2 – 10 a.m.
Division 3 – 5:30 p.m.
Division 4 – 3 p.m.

Tickets cost $9.40 and may be purchased online only at GoFanOne ticket is good for all softball, baseball and girls soccer games at MSU’s Old College Field that day. All Semifinals and Finals will be broadcast and available with subscription from MHSAA.tv, with free audio broadcasts on the MHSAA Network.

Below is a glance at all 16 teams taking the field (with statistics through Regional Finals):

Division 1

ALLEN PARK
Record/rank: 31-10, No. 4
Coach: Mike Kish, third season (59-13-2)
League finish: First in Downriver League
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Madison Hool, jr. 2B (.426, 47 R, 13 2B, 36 RBI); Madilynn Ramey, jr. SS (.464, 40 R, 10 2B, 8 HR, 46 RBI); Avery Garden, fr. 1B (.463, 32 R, 10 2B, 28 RBI, 6-5 pitching, 1.41 ERA); Morgan Sizemore, soph. P (.432, 13 2B, 36 RBI, 24-5 pitching, 2.20 ERA, 162 K/152 2/3 IP).
Outlook: Allen Park has reached the Semifinals for the third time and first since 1990, but with a group that could return much more quickly. There is only one senior but 10 underclassmen including five in this weekend’s projected starting lineup. Allen Park brought a .404 team batting average into the week, with sophomores Molly Hool (.426), Autumn Bridges (.403) and Mia Hool (.402) and junior Faith Peschke (.412) also boosting that impressive percentage. The Jaguars have allowed one run across five postseason games and scored 12 or more runs in all but one.

FARMINGTON HILLS MERCY
Record/rank: 32-4, No. 5
Coach: Corey Burras, first season (32-4)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2016, runner-up 2002.
Players to watch: Grace Nieto, sr. SS (.589, 60 R, 43 SB); Maggie Murphy, sr. 2B (.474, 48 R, 16 HR, 66 RBI); Kendall Spivey, jr. 3B (.459, 11 2B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 15 SB); Asia Barbato, fr. P (.372, 18-1 pitching, 1.63 ERA, 205 K/12 1/3 IP).
Outlook: Mercy is back at the Semifinals for the first time since its championship season featuring one of the strongest middle infields in the state in Murphy and Nieto, who both earned all-state honorable mentions as sophomores in 2019. More impressive: they are the only senior starters. Sophomore right fielder Izzy Chaput (.435, 30 RBI) is another big bat, and Sophia Paluk gives Mercy two freshman standouts in the circle – she entered the week 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 98 strikeouts in just under 79 innings pitched. Mercy has defeated No. 9 Macomb Dakota and honorable mentions Novi and Walled Lake Northern during this playoff run.

GRANDVILLE
Record/rank: 36-5, No. 10
Coach: Troy Ungrey, eighth season (204-79)
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2017, Class A runner-up 1982.
Players to watch: Lexi Wickstrom, jr. 3B/P (.480, 38 R, 11 2B, 50 RBI, 6-0 pitching); Maddie Gkekas, sr. OF (.408, 53 R, 14 2B, 21 SB); Brook Bernt, sr. OF (.408, 51 R, 16 2B, 11 SB); Jamie Vander Meer, sr. 1B/P (.433, 11 2B, 33 RBI).
Outlook: Grandville just missed its first championship with an eight-inning one-run loss in the 2017 Final, and the team’s 10 seniors entered high school that fall and have helped the Bulldogs return to MSU. They defeated No. 8 Hudsonville in the District Final and honorable mention Traverse City West on Tuesday. Senior Grace Connelly is the ace of a deep pitching staff and entered the week 20-4 with a 2.61 ERA and 133 strikeouts in just under 140 innings pitched, with four saves. She hits .356 and senior Amanda Hallenbeck .382 to bolster the team’s overall .364 average, and senior Kylee Dillard (.333, 36 R, 35 RBI) is another main run producer.

SOUTH LYON
Record/rank: 28-6-2, honorable mention
Coach: Dan DePaulis, seventh season (148-60-2)
League finish: First in Lakes Valley Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Ava Bradshaw, fr. P (.456, 26 RBI, 19-4 pitching, 1.18 ERA, 266 K/148 1/3 IP); Grace Walters, soph. 3B (.461, 36 R, 13 2B, 8 HR, 36 RBI) Madison McKenzie, jr. C (.373, 22 RBI); Cece Dudek, soph. RF (340, 24 R, 33 RBI, 11 SB).
Outlook: South Lyon has emerged to make its first Semifinal since 1986 from a league that included No. 6 South Lyon East and three more honorable mentions in the final Division 1 rankings. South Lyon shut out its District by a combined 20-0 score over three games including East 5-0 in the championship game, and upset No. 3 Hartland 9-3 in the Regional Semifinal. Three seniors start, but the great majority of this roster also should be back over the next few seasons. Sophomore Emily Johnson (.337, 23 R) and junior Julia Duncan (.304) join the four listed above among the top six in the lineup.

Division 2

CHELSEA
Record/rank: 37-4, No. 8
Coach: Jeff Connelly, fifth season (128-26-1)
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2003), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Rebekah Zachrich, jr. C (.496, 56 R, 15 2B, 54 RBI); Emilee Underwood, soph. P (.305, 37 RBI, 27-4 pitching, 0.22 ERA, 258 K/185 1/3 IP); Mya Purdy, soph. SS (.457, 67 R, 10 2B, 12 HR, 54 RBI, 22 SB); Margaret Olaveson, jr. OF (.406, 43 R, 55 RBI).  
Outlook: Chelsea is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 2004 after winning its fourth league and second District titles in Connelly’s four seasons leading the team on the field (and not counting COVID-canceled 2020). Junior Andi Evers (.400, 41 R, 11 2B, 38 RBI) also has provided pop to a lineup hitting a combined .392, and freshman Jenna Ouellette has hit .489 over about a half-season of at bats and is slated for second in the lineup this weekend. Senior Emily McCalla (.394, 34 R, 11 2B, 9-0 pitching 0.23 ERA) provides a variety of contributions as well.  

GAYLORD
Record/rank: 41-1, No. 4
Coach: Abe Cruz, eighth season (110-112)
League finish: First in Big North Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Alexis Kozlowski, soph. 3B (.515, 71 R, 19 2B, 8 HR, 50 RBI, 10 SB); Addison Wangler, fr. C/OF (.487, 37 R, 11 2B, 39 RBI); Avery Parker, fr. 3B/P (.537, 53 R, 9 HR, 6 RBI, 15 SB, 15-1, 0.74 ERA, 86 K/85 IP); Jayden Jones, fr. SS/P (.528, 75 R, 10 2B, 13 3B, 13 HR, 70 RBI, 13-0, 0.63 ERA, 94 K/62 IP).
Outlook: Gaylord has made a significant jump this season to reach its second Semifinal and first since 1991. Among a field of young teams this weekend, Gaylord is the youngest with no seniors, four juniors, three sophomores and eight freshmen including six who start. The Blue Devils downed No. 7 Escanaba and No. 10 Hudsonville Unity Christian on the way, with Division 1 honorable mention Traverse City West (in a split) providing the only loss of the spring. Gaylord hits .399 as a team and averages 11.2 runs per game, with sophomore Abby Radulski (.346, 44 RBI, 12-0 pitching, 1.80 ERA) another all-around producer.

MARYSVILLE
Record/rank: 30-6, honorable mention
Coach: Ryan Rathje, 18th season (289-207)
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Blue
Championship history: Class B champion 1983, runner-up 1991.
Players to watch: Kaitlyn Cain, jr. OF (.512, 33 R, 11 2B, 26 RBI); Kate Westmiller, jr. 2B (.466, 46 R, 12 2B, 29 RBI); Kirsten Smith, sr. P/1B/OF (.475, 20 2B, 53 RBI, 14-1 pitching, 1.83 ERA, 168 K/107 1/3 IP); Calle Perrin, sr. 1B (.474, 8 HR, 46 RBI).
Outlook: Marysville has come back after 2020 with its winningest season, sixth District title and ninth league title under Rathje – in addition to making the Semifinals for the first time since 2007. Cain earned an all-state honorable mention as a freshman and leads nine starters hitting .396 or better; freshman Avery Woodard is hitting .511 in about a half-season of at bats, while freshman Avery Wolters (.427, 39 R), juniors Anna Oles (.420, 33 RBI) and Brandi Bassett (.396) and sophomore Meghan Winston (.414, 30 RBI) also have made major contributions. Marysville defeated No. 10 Center Line in the Regional Final and No. 6 Linden in the Quarterfinal.  

OWOSSO
Record/rank: 35-3, No. 5
Coach: JoEllen Smith, 38th season (807-538)
League finish: First in Flint Metro League
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Jamie Maier, soph. SS (.422, 51 R, 39 RBI); Macy Irelan, jr. P (.520, 23 2B, 53 RBI, 34-3 pitching, 0.56 ERA, 454 K/227 IP); Reyn Tuttle, sr. 1B (.362, 46 R, 47 RBI); Madyson Rainey, sr. DP (.356, 28 R, 27 RBI).
Outlook: Smith entered this season 18th for career softball wins in MHSAA coaching history, and this team broke through for the program’s first Semifinal berth with an extra-inning win over honorable mention Wayland on Tuesday. Irelan has dominated in the circle and at the plate, with her 454 strikeouts entering the week 18th all-time for a season and her 23 doubles tying for 14th all-time. The team’s only losses were to Division 3 No. 2 Richmond (twice) and Division 1 Lake Orion. Nevaeh Ginger (.338, 28 R) and Lexi Hemker (.309, 49 R) are two more key hitters in a lineup averaging 9.9 runs per game.

Division 3

BUCHANAN
Record/rank: 34-4, unranked
Coach: Rachel Carlson, fourth season (74-32)
League finish: First in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Sophia Lozmack, sr. IF/P (.443, 43 R, 18 2B, 48 RBI, 14 SB, 21-2 pitching, 0.72 ERA, 240 K/132 2/3 IP); Hannah Herman, fr. IF (.488, 63 R, 16 2B, 52 RBI, 26 SB); Alea Fisher, jr. IF (.521, 36 R, 15 2B, 39 RBI); Hailee Kara, fr. IF/P (.496, 45 R, 16 2B, 7 HR, 53 RBI, 11 SB)
Outlook: Buchanan has won 14 of its last 15 games as it returns to the Semifinals for the first time since 2006, with postseason victories against No. 5 Central Montcalm and No. 6 Schoolcraft highlighting the run. Lozmack and leadoff hitter Brooke Atkinson (.457, 60 R, 22 SB) are the team’s only seniors. Every starter hits at least .345, and the Bucks average 10.3 runs per game. Kara (7-2, 1.60) and freshman Camille Lozmack (6-0, 2.13) provide notable pitching depth. Camille Lozmack (.368, 36 R) and sophomore Hannah Tompkins (.350, 33 R) also are among top run producers.

CLINTON
Record/rank: 33-7, No. 4
Coach: Kim Phillip, ninth season (240-56)
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2011 and 2012, Class C runner-up 1997.
Players to watch: Liberti Fair, sr. C (.531, 67 R, 14 2B, 53 RBI); Kendall Phillip, fr. RF/P (.419, 44 R, 18 SB, 16-3 pitching, 2.56 ERA, 125 K/94 2/3 IP); Jaecy Jones, sr. CF (.456, 53 R, 47 RBI); Lily Thompson, sr. 3B (.458, 46 R, 14 2B, 58 RBI).
Outlook: Fair made the all-state first team as a sophomore and is one six seniors who have helped Clinton return to the Semifinals for the first time since 2018 and seventh time over the last 12 seasons. Sophomore Sydney Schuler (15-4, 124 K/123 IP) is scheduled to start the Semifinal; none of the team’s five postseason opponents has scored more than two runs, and Clinton opened with a 5-0 shutout of honorable mention Blissfield. The lineup hits a combined .397 and averages 10.3 runs per game, with 12 hitters at .306 or better. Sophomore Ava Ormsby (.402, 45 R, 36 RBI, 14 SB) and senior Chloe Houghton (.369, 42 R, 21 SB) are too more.

RICHMOND
Record/rank: 29-5, No. 2
Coach: Howard Stuart, 43rd season (1,070-310)
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2016, four runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Shea VanScoter, sr. P/IF (.613, 59 R, 11 2B, 37 RBI, 14-1 pitching, 1.60 ERA, 165 K/96 IP); Piper Clark, soph. P/IF (.621, 49 R, 10 2B, 8 HR, 58 RBI, 13-4 pitching, 1.85 ERA, 94 K/102 IP); Lauren Creon, jr. OF (.414, 30 R), Amelia Black, sr. C/IF (.411, 34 RBI).
Outlook: Stuart entered the season with the ninth-most wins in MHSAA softball coaching history, and he has Richmond back at the Semifinals for the third time in five seasons and first since finishing Division 2 runner-up in 2017. VanScoter earned all-state honorable mention at shortstop as a sophomore and is a dynamite 1-2 combination with Clark, who will start at short in the Semifinal while VanScoter is in the circle. Richmond has won 20 straight games and defeated honorable mention Algonac in the District Final, and a week later topped top-ranked Millington 2-1 in nine innings in the Regional Final. Junior Olivia Theut (.333, 35 R, 11 SB) and senior Jaylyn Amhdar (.381) fill out the top of the lineup.

STANDISH-STERLING
Record/rank: 32-11, honorable mention
Coach: Rich Sullivan, seventh season (130-105)
League finish: Second in the Tri-Valley Conference 10
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Lexi Mielke, soph. SS (.491, 47 R, 13 2B, 40 RBI, 18 SB); Baylee Ex, jr. OF (.491, 35 R, 16 2B, 34 RBI, 10 SB); Karasyn Kraska, sr. 2B (.482, 48 R, 39 RBI, 22 SB); Macey Fegan, soph. OF (.490, 38 R, 10 HR, 38 RBI).  
Outlook: Standish-Sterling is on another historic run, as the Panthers made the Semifinals for the first time in 2019 and have returned with only one starter who was in that lineup – senior Taylor Krzyzaniak, although senior outfielder Taylor Stodolak also started in 2019 but has missed this season with an injury. Krzyzaniak has been the main pitcher in 2021 (16-4, 1.84 ERA, 145 K/137 1/3 IP) and another of seven hitters above .400, at .442 with 13 doubles and 36 RBI. Also in that group are sophomore Devri Jennings (.454, 38 RBI) and senior Mady Ahleman (.421, 34 R, 34 RBI) with Morgan Jenkins (.392) right there. The Panthers have defeated No. 10 Beaverton and No. 7 Traverse City St. Francis during this playoff run. Fegan is one of the state’s top basketball prospects.

Division 4

BRIDGMAN
Record/rank: 39-2, No. 4
Coach: Elaine Starbuck, third season (65-6)
League finish: First in BCS White
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Natalee McNeil, sr. P/1B (.508, 62 R, 12 2B, 58 RBI, 19-1 pitching, 1.20 ERA, 178 K/105 IP); Arie Hackett, jr. CF (.500, 87 R, 15 2B, 61 RBI, 21 SB); Emme Slavens, soph. C (.446, 49 R, 45 RBI); Kaylee Shuler, jr. SS (.580, 79 R, 18 2B, 13 HR, 87 RBI, 22 SB).
Outlook: Bridgman won its first Regional title since 1994 and now will make its first trip to the Semifinals after defeating No. 5 Ottawa Lake Whiteford in the Quarterfinal and honorable mention Kalamazoo Christian in the Regional Final. Shuler paces an offense hitting a combined .417 and averaging 13.4 runs per game, and McNeil is the lone senior. Junior Hannah Johnson adds a .392 average (with 44 runs and 48 RBI) and also is 8-1 with a 2.28 ERA in the circle. Bella Gearhart (.375, 31 R), Elise Schmaltz (.370, 37 R), Brianna Russell (.333, 40 R) and Peyton Oman (.327, 47 R) also help fill out a balanced lineup that should remain a force in 2022.

HOLTON
Record/rank: 35-6, No. 1
Coach: Kirk Younts, seventh season (195-39)
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Silver
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Kylie Gould, sr. SS/1B/P (.400, 42 R, 10 2B, 34 RBI, 10-3 pitching, 0.78 ERA, 104 K/63 IP); Ryann Robins, fr. 1B/P (.484, 50 R, 12 2B, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 13-2 pitching, 2.62 ERA, 130 K/88 IP); Abigail Fowler, fr. 2B/P (.468, 65 R, 16 2B, 10-1 pitching, 2.47 ERA, 98 K/85 IP); Kennedy Greene, sr. SS/2B (.383, 47 R, 22 2B);
Outlook: Holton has won six Regional titles over the last eight seasons and is back at the Semifinals for the first time since 2016 and fourth time during that recent run of success. The Red Devils downed No. 10 Mesick and honorable mention Portland St. Patrick in the last two games to advance. Gould made the all-state first team as a pitcher in 2019 and has plenty of support backing her up in the circle and providing punch at the plate. Junior Gianna Reed (.359, 33 R) and senior Kendall Greene (.320, 11 2B, 31 RBI) also bolster the top of the lineup.

RUDYARD
Record/rank: 27-5, honorable mention
Coach: Stephen Davis, second season (27-5)
League finish: First in Straits Area Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Morgan Bickel, sr. P/IF (.690, 47 R, 20 2B, 36 RBI, 15-1 pitching, 1.32 ERA, 130 K/84 1/3 IP); Paige Postma, sr. P/IF (.631, 54 R, 15 2B, 32 RBI, 9-3 pitching, 92 K/74 2/3 IP); Megan Postma, soph. C/IF (.611, 42 R, 11 2B, 40 RBI); Brooklyn Besteman, jr. P/IF (.531, 42 R, 10 2B, 52 RBI);
Outlook: Rudyard won its first Regional titles in 2018 and 2019 and has taken the next step making the Semifinals for the first time. The Bulldogs defeated another honorable mention, Hillman, to advance and have downed five postseason opponents by a combined 40-13 score. Rudyard is hitting .465 as a team and averaging 11.9 runs per game, with 12 regulars or main subs hitting.328 or better. Tori Tremblay (.411, 14 SB) and Desta MacDowell (.407, 35 R, 33 RBI) join their four teammates listed above as the top six in the lineup all hitting at least .400.

UNIONVILLE-SEBEWAING
Record/rank: 38-3, No. 2
Coach: Isaiah Gainforth, fifth season (131-31)
League finish: First in Greater Thumb Conference West
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Macy Reinhardt, jr. 2B/OF (.453, 74 R, 43 RBI); Gabriella Crumm, fr. C/3B (.464, 51 R, 12 2B, 51 RBI); Brynn Polega, sr. P/1B (.525, 63 R, 26 2B, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 25-1 pitching, 0.80 ERA, 322 K/148 IP); Laci Harris, jr. 3B/P/1B (.539, 71 R, 19 2B, 14 HR, 75 RBI, 12-2 pitching, 2.86 ERA, 138 K/76 IP).
Outlook: USA has won three of the last five Division 4 titles, and Polega was the pitcher during the 2019 run and joined by senior catcher Maci Montgomery, Harris and Reinhart in the championship game lineup that season. Polega and Montgomery (.306, 48 R, 14 SB) also made the all-state first team that spring. USA downed No. 3 Allen Park Cabrini to advance this time, and its only losses this season were to Division 3 top-ranked Millington, honorable mention Standish-Sterling and Division 2 honorable mention Essexville Garber. Sophomore Olivia Jubar (.427, 36 R, 44 RBI) also boosts the team’s overall .405 average, and Polega’s 26 doubles heading into this week are the fifth-most for a season all-time.

PHOTO: Gaylord's Abby Radulski (11) connects with a pitch during her team's District win over Cadillac. (Photo by Sports in Motion.)