By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Three of last season's MHSAA softball champions will return to Battle Creek's Bailey Park on Friday looking to make it two -- or in Petersburg-Summerfield's case, three -- in a row.
Mattawan, Clinton and the Bulldogs won the titles last season in Divisions 1, 3 and 4, respectively. And it's fair to call them all favorites to repeat -- although Division 1 in particular also includes the champions from 2008-2010.
Division 2 surely will have a new champion -- but Saginaw Swan Valley and Livonia Ladywood also made the Semifinals last season and plenty familiar with all that goes into succeeding over the season's final two days.
Below is this weekend's schedule, followed by a look at each of the 16 teams that will be playing.
Semifinals - Friday
White Lake Lakeland vs. Mattawan - 3:30 p.m. Diamond 1
Hudsonville vs. Garden City - 4 p.m. Diamond 3
Coloma vs. Saginaw Swan Valley - 1 p.m. Diamond 1
Livonia Ladywood vs. Wayland Union - 1:30 p.m. Diamond 3
Unionville-Sebewaing vs. Clinton - 10:30 a.m. Diamond 1
Gladstone vs. Springport - 11 a.m. Diamond 3
Dansville vs. Rapid River - 6 p.m. Diamond 1
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart vs. Petersburg-Summerfield - 6:30 p.m. Diamond 3
Finals - Saturday
Division 3 - 10 a.m.
Division 2 - 12:30 p.m.
Division 1 - 3:00 p.m.
Division 4 - 5:30 p.m.
Statistics below are through teams' Regional tournaments, except for Dansville's, which are through the Aggies' District games. (Click for links to brackets and scores.)
Record/rank: 29-4, honorable mention
Coach: Barry Patterson, 26th season (614-237)
League finish: First in Western Wayne Athletic Conference Red
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2008, Class A runner-up 1991.
Players to watch: P sr. Kelsey Susalla (.617, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 15-3, 0.90 ERA, 109 K in 101 IP), CF sr. Sam Bellovary (.558, 40 RBI), 3B sr. Hillarie Werda (.507, 10 2B, 34 RBI, 8-1, 0.70 ERA).
Outlook: This will be Garden City’s third trip to Battle Creek over the last seven seasons, following the team’s fifth Regional title over that same span of time. The Cougars are led by 11 seniors, including seven who start. Susalla was an all-state selection last season and has signed with the University of Michigan, and senior shortstop Ashley Lynn (.441) has signed with Northwood University.
Record/rank: 37-3, No. 4
Coach: Tom Vruggink, 31st season (843-226)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Red
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2010 and 2009.
Players to watch: C sr. Bethaney Murphey (.500, 4 HR, 44 RBI); SS jr. Danielle Freeman (.538, 11 HR, 64 RBI), P fr. Lexi Agers (16-1, 0.67 ERA).
Outlook: Hudsonville won its fourth straight Regional title and sixth in seven seasons, and returning all-stater Murphey also started on the MHSAA championship team in 2010. She’s signed to play next season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and serves as the target for a dynamic duo of underclassmen pitchers – Agers and sophomore Alli Kortman (13-2, 1.22 ERA).
Record/rank: 32-10, No. 3
Coach: Alicia Smith, 12th season (316-144-1)
League finish: Third in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2011.
Players to watch: DP sr. Loren Nagy (.439); P sr. Stacy Thompson (.402, 31 RBI, 16-4, 1.94 ERA); 1B jr. Abby Stoner (.426, 10 HR, 36 RBI).
Outlook: Mattawan is back in Battle Creek despite graduating three all-staters from last season’s championship team and after losing a combined six games to top-ranked powers Portage Central (Division 1) and Stevensville Lakeshore (Division 2). Nagy and junior third baseman Sarah Johnson (.370) are returning all-staters, while sophomore second baseman Kyla Nickrent (.455, 9 SB) and junior shortstop Allie Havers (.436, 28 RBI) provide punch up the middle.
WHITE LAKE LAKELAND
Record/rank: 36-6, No. 6
Coach: Joe Alsup, 11th season (342-55)
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association North
Championship history: Division 1/Class A runner-up five times (most recently 2010).
Players to watch: 3B jr. Kelly Merkle (.524); DP soph. Karissa Gawronski (.489); CF soph. Madison Burgess (.459).
Outlook: Lakeland is hoping to finally get over the top after coming close a number of times of late – three of those runner-up finishes came over the last six seasons, and the Eagles have won their Regional seven of the last eight. And the team is built to continue making a run. There are only three seniors, but five sophomores, in the starting lineup. Juniors Selena Hicks and Annika Wiesinger handle the pitching duties. Alsup is 956-203 overall during a coaching career spanning nearly four decades.
Record/rank: 40-2-1, honorable mention
Coach: Wendy Goodline, 13th season (327-166-1)
League finish: First in Lakeland Conference
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: SS fr. Jenna Faultersack (.424, 14 2B, 5 3B, 41 RBI); P soph. Emily Najacht (37-2, 0.77 ERA, 270 K in 233 IP, 368, 36 RBI).
Outlook: After being shut out 5-0 by Stevensville Lakeshore earlier this season, Coloma stunned the top-ranked team in Division 2 by beating the Lancers 1-0 in the Regional final. This is the Comets’ first trip to the Semifinals and caps a run that’s included two straight league titles. It could also be the start, as only one player – left fielder Amanda Swihart – is a senior.
Record/rank: 37-3, No. 2
Coach: Scott Combs, fifth season (168-31)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic High School League Central
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2009.
Players to watch: P sr. Briana Combs, 1B jr. Andria Gietl, 3B jr. Celeste Fidge, 2B sr. Carli SanMillan. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Ladywood has won at least 35 games each of the last four seasons, Combs, Gietl, Fidge and SanMillan all made the all-state team last season and are among eight total who also started during the 2011 Semifinal run. Combs has signed with Cleveland State University and SanMillan with Davenport University.
SAGINAW SWAN VALLEY
Record/rank: 36-3, No. 3
Coach: Tom Kennelly, 33rd season (961-245)
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference Central
Championship history: Class B champion 1996, two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: 3B sr. Mary Berden (.415, 59 SB); P sr. Mackenzie Boehler (21-1, 0.33 ERA, 276 K in 145 IP, .386, 38 RBI); OF sr. Heather Pollick (.411, 6 HR, 35 RBI).
Outlook: Kennelly is one of four coaches in MHSAA softball history with at least 900 wins, and a strong group of seniors will try to get him back into a championship game for the first time since 2002. The Vikings emerged from a league that also included No. 9 Bullock Creek and outscored District opponents Alma and honorable mention Mount Pleasant by a combined 18-0. Berden, Boehler and Pollick are all returning all-staters.
Record/rank: 38-2-1, No. 5
Coach: Cheri Ritz, 18th season (709-197-1)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Gold
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2006
Players to watch: C sr. Kayla Merice (.523, 10 3B, 39 RBI); SS soph. Sierra Mutschler (.512, 6 HR, 60 RBI), RF soph. Brittany McLain (.496, 50 RBI), P fr. Mallory Teunissen (29-2, 0.78 ERA, 215 K in 179 IP).
Outlook: Wayland has its most wins this season since going to the Semifinals in 2007 and won its league for the eighth straight season despite a relatively young squad. The team has only three seniors, and two start – centerfielder Autumn Anderson and Merice batting in the top two spots. But the Wildcats have five batters hitting at least .450, and Anderson, with 26 stolen bases, leads a team that has stolen 105 total in 122 attempts.
Record/rank: 41-1, No. 1
Coach: Al Roberts, 19th season (583-125)
League finish: First in Tri-County Conference
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2011, Class C runner-up 1997.
Players to watch: P sr. Tierney Nelson (29-1, 1.01 ERA, 318 K in 200.3 IP), C sr. Abi Clark (.461, 15 2B, 48 RBI, 15 SB), SS sr. Haley Mercy (.492, 47 SB).
Outlook: Although the team has only three seniors, six starters are back from last season’s title-winner. And those seniors all are returning all-staters who play positions of particular importance. All three seniors also started on the Clinton teams that made the Division 3 Semifinals in 2009 and 2010.
Record/rank: 29-5-1, No. 7
Coach: Gerald A. Smith, ninth season (257-65-1)
League finish: Gladstone does not play in a league.
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2009 and 2004.
Players to watch: OF sr. Katie Becker (.521, 28 RBI), C jr. Jordan Kowalski (.357, 21 RBI), P soph. Christine Sharon (22-4, 1.94 ERA).
Outlook: Gladstone capped its 10th-straight District championship with its fifth-straight trip to Battle Creek for the Semifinals. Becker and Kowalski were all-state honorable mentions last season, and Becker is one of seven senior starters making a run at a second championship for the team in four seasons.
Record/rank: 39-2-1, honorable mention
Coach: Jo Dee Johnston, 14th season (336-131-1)
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2002
Player to watch: P soph. Sam Bates. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Springport hasn’t lost since April 26, and has given up only two runs during the postseason. Bates emerged as an all-stater last year in her first as a high schooler, and she threw a no-hitter Tuesday against Buchanan to advance the Spartans to Battle Creek.
Record/rank: 40-4, No. 5
Coach: Steve Bohn, first season (40-4)
League finish: Second in Greater Thumb Conference West
Championship history: Three championships (most recently 2009 in Division 4), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: 1B Jessica Gremel (.451, 16 2B, 41 RBI), C jr. Ashlyn VanHoost (.408, 16 2B, 45 RBI), 2B soph. Stephanie Neuman (.518, 15 2B, 45 RBI).
Outlook: USA has championships in three of the last six seasons (including two in Division 3) and lost in extra innings of last season’s Division 4 Final. Gremel, VanHoost and senior leftfielder Taylor Anker (.398) all were all-state last season, and the team has two more starters – catcher Calie Valentine and designated player Tessa Dinsmoore – hitting at least .460.
Record/rank: 30-5, No. 9
Coach: Mick Ream, 31st season (record N/A)
League finish: First in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: 1B jr. Evy Lobdell (.500, 16 2B, 47 RBI); C/P sr. Rebekah Guy (.424, 15 SB, 27 RBI, 8-1, 1.38 ERA); P soph. Meagan Kelly (18-4, 1.54 ERA, 183 K in 145 IP).
Outlook: The Aggies are back in the Semifinals for the second time in three seasons and led by a four-year starter in Guy, who despite not being an all-stater last season was a first-team pick as a catcher in 2010. Lobdell is the team’s top run producer and also has spent time as Dansville’s top pitcher during her high school career. Seniors Addie Price and Alison Schlicker and junior Paige Galbreath also started on the 2010 team.
MOUNT PLEASANT SACRED HEART
Record/rank: 31-7, honorable mention
Coach: Amy Gaudard, second season (55-20)
League finish: Second in Mid-State Activities Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: SS soph. Sara Hansen (.640, 33 SB, 39 RBI), 3B soph. Lauren Sabuda (.407, 31 RBI), C jr. Elizabeth Albaugh (.450, 21 2B, 9 HR, 55 RBI).
Outlook: The Irish are back in the Semifinals for the second time and first since 1994. Sacred Heart got here in part by surviving a 14-inning District semifinal against No. 4 Breckenridge and by beating No. 10 Mason County Eastern in the Regional final. The starting lineup includes just two seniors, although one, Kelsey Poag (19-4, 1.56 ERA) splits pitching duties with another senior, Courtney Fracassi (11-3, 1.68).
Record/rank: 33-3, No. 1
Coach: Robert Taylor, 20th season (495-148)
League finish: Second in Tri-County Conference
Championship history: Three MHSAA championships (most recently 2011), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: P sr. Emily Puterbaugh (32-3, 0.81 ERA, 312 K in 207 IP), C sr. Taylor Goodin (.513, 16 2B, 45 RBI), SS jr. Olivia Ostrosky (.413, 25 RBI, 11 SB).
Outlook: Petersburg-Summerfield has won the last two Division 4 championships, and is a favorite to help give the Tri-County Conference two again this season with two of those losses to reigning Division 3 champ and league mate Clinton. Puterbaugh and Goodin are returning all-staters, and Ostrosky earned honorable mention last season. And Clinton isn’t the only strong team the Bulldogs have faced; they also saw and beat a number of larger schools including Canton and Detroit Renaissance.
Record/rank: 35-5, No. 3
Coach: George Kanyuh, second season (64-13)
League finish: Rapid River does not play in a league.
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: P sr. Heather Sanderson (.509, 18-3), SS sr. Ashleigh Monticello (.440), 1B soph. Savannah Stenlund (.453).
Outlook: Despite playing for its first championship game berth, this is Rapid River’s third appearance in the Semifinals in four seasons. Three of its losses this spring were to Division 3 Semifinalist Gladstone, and Rapid River beat No. 8 Rogers City on the way to Battle Creek. Seven starters from last season’s team are back.
PHOTO: Swan Valley Heather Pollick charges to catch a line drive during her team's 2011 Semifinal against Milan at Battle Creek's Bailey Park. Pollick and the Vikings are back at Bailey this weekend.