Flashback 1982: Diamond Finals Dominated by 1-Run Title Deciders
By Ron Pesch
June 6, 2022
Heavy downpours earlier in the week, combined with all-night rain on Friday, meant the title games in both baseball and softball were postponed from Saturday, June 19 to the following Monday.
Those baseball fans making the trip to Central Michigan University’s Alumni Field for the 1982 MHSAA Baseball Finals saw five of the Detroit Free Press’ 11-member Dream team – Rick Leppien of Midland, Bill Hanis from Plymouth Canton, Paul Ouillette from Bay City Handy, Frank Kendall of Mesick and Ron Fillmore from Sanford Meridian (a rare all-stater in three sports).
Runner-up in Class D in 1981, Mesick brought home a state title in ’82, posting a 30-0-1 record, capped by a thrilling – and for some, controversial – 3-2 win over Colon before an opening game crowd of 500.
Colon grabbed a 2-1 advantage in the third inning and had multiple opportunities to up its lead, loading the bases in both the fourth and again in the top of the sixth innings. But the Magi were unable to capitalize. In the bottom of the sixth with one out, Mesick’s Monty Geiger ripped an opposite-field double within inches of the rightfield foul line, scoring Chuck Hockey to knot the game at 2-2, setting the stage for a thrilling finish.
In the seventh, with Mesick runners at second and third and nobody out, Colon coach Mike Sowles ordered an intentional walk to Bulldogs star Frank Kendall. With the bases loaded, a grounder to short was tossed to home plate for the inning’s first out. Another near-identical shot, again to the shortstop, followed. The throw to the plate was accurate and beat the sliding runner, Ken LeFountain. However, the umpire ruled the catcher had been pulled off the plate by the throw, allowing Mesick to score the game winner.
“Our clutch hitting didn’t come through for the first time in a long time,” said Sowles to the Battle Creek Enquirer. His team had stranded 13 runners on the morning. “We just didn’t get the key hits to put them away.”
"Most observers in the press box located directly behind home plate, thought the umpire was right,” stated Steve Morse, staff writer at the Enquirer, who had covered the game.
While Sowles disagreed with the game-ending call, he added, “You’ve got to give credit to Mesick. They pitched out of those jams time and time again.”
Also named all-state in football and basketball, Sanford Meridian’s Ron Fillmore doubled off the centerfield fence, then scored what proved to be the winning run in the fifth inning following a two-out single by catcher Brian Garner as the Mustangs downed Buchanan 6-4 to earn the Class C baseball crown. It was the second consecutive runner-up finish for the Bucks, who finished the year at 25-6.
Beaten only once, at a tournament during the regular season by eventual Class A champion Midland, Sanford Meridian (29-1) banged out 13 hits and opened the scoring in the top of the first when Dave Ehlert scored on a double steal. The Mustangs then added runs in the second, and a pair in the third inning, for a 4-1 lead.
Buchanan knotted the game in the fourth inning.
Fillmore, who was headed back to Central Michigan University in the fall on a football scholarship, tripled, scored twice, and added an RBI on the day. Garner drove in three runs on a double and a pair of singles, while Jim Bailey and Kirk Shauger also added two singles. The Mustangs had added an insurance run in the sixth following a Dennis Ladlow sacrifice fly.
“Fillmore concluded an outstanding athletic career at Sanford-Meridian with his performance in the title contest,” wrote Jack Walkden in the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium. “Three times he bailed starter Dave Walter (12-0) out of tight jams. And the senior righthander closed out the game with a flourish striking out Buchanan’s 1-2-3 batters. He worked 2 2/3 innings in all, yielding no runs, no hits, striking out five, and walking just two.”
“Sanford-Meridian got some other good news Monday,” added Walkden. “The baseball program had been dropped for 1983 as part of budget cuts at the school.
“‘But it’s about 80 percent sure that it will be reinstated through outside funding,’ Sanford-Meridian Athletic Director Steve Digsby said.”
Bob Podschline drove home the tying run with a two-run double in the Class B contest, scored the winning run on a Carl Novick two-run double in the third inning, then racked up 10 strikeouts as Southgate Aquinas topped Bay City Handy, 6-2. The Raiders southpaw allowed just two hits across six innings. Novak added a fifth-inning home run, and Gary Lizanich tossed a hitless seventh to seal the win. Aquinas ended the season with a 22-10 mark, while Handy closed out the year 30-9.
In the day’s final contest, Midland’s Chemics downed Plymouth Canton, 5-4, in Class A. Rick Leppien smacked a 385-foot two-run homer over the left-centerfield fence in the top of the second inning to open the scoring. It was his eighth round-tripper of the year. He scored again on a double steal to up the score to 3-0 in the fourth.
“The Chemics increased their lead to 5-0 with two more runs in the top of the fifth,” stated Don Winger in the Midland Daily News. “Bryan Kuehne doubled, moved to third on a ground out by Chris Carter, and scored when (Canton) shortstop Don Dombey threw wild to first on Mark Sayad’s grounder. Sayad raced all the way to third on the play and pitcher (Greg) Money promptly doubled him home.”
Victory, however, would not come easy.
Leppien, the ace of the Midland pitching staff with a 16-1 record, was limited to a relief role in the championship contest because of a “30 outs rule in effect for the semifinal and final games.” Hence, Midland coach Frank Altimore was forced into juggling pitching duties across four members of the staff.
A series of walks, a passed ball, and a timely single – Canton’s lone hit on the day – cut the margin to 5-3 in the fifth inning. Additional issues in the sixth led to another run, setting the stage for an exciting finish.
In the bottom of the seventh, Altimore moved pitchers in and out like chess pieces. The Chiefs had the winning run at third base when Money returned to the mound for the fourth time, and “blew a 3-2 pitch” past Canton’s batter to end the game for the final out.
“It was dark, and I told them to just come in with heat. They did, and we won. It was a great ballgame,” said Altimore.
Moments later, “a heavy downpour inundated the playing field,” concluded Winger. “But, by that time the Chemics were celebrating their second state title in 10 years, and they were oblivious to the raindrops.”
Money, the starter, was credited with both the win and the save for Midland, which finished with a 35-5 mark. Canton ended the season at 25-5.
“They were on a vision quest,” their coach would recall in 2007 when the team was honored with induction into the Midland County Sports Hall of Fame. “We had an incredibly talented team in 1981, senior-loaded. They went to the regional finals, where they got beat by a very poor team from Jackson with a great pitcher.”
In total, over 3,100 attended Monday’s baseball games.
Three one-run games kept softball fans on the edge of their seats at Lansing’s Ranney Park.
Paula DeFord and Jean Sullivan each drove in three runs as Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard rolled over Gaylord St. Mary, 9-2, for the Class D title. Senior Ann O’Sullivan held St. Mary to just two hits in the day’s opening game. Rain also had pushed the Softball Finals to Monday.
The Irish, focused on aggressive baserunning, stole 10 bases and took advantage of six errors by the young Gaylord squad. Up 2-0 after the first, and 4-2 after three innings, Gabriel Richard pushed across four more runs in the fourth. The Irish ended the campaign with a 30-6 mark, with O’Sullivan finishing her senior year with 16 wins against four defeats.
“New Lothrop’s first batter of the game, Kelly Fisher, crossed the plate with the game’s only score,” stated Bill Khan of the Flint Journal in his article covering the Hornets’ 1-0 win over Pontiac Catholic in the Class C Final. According to Khan, the “lone run couldn’t have been planned much better.
“Fisher led off the Hornets’ half of the first inning with a walk, then proceeded to swipe her 71st base of the season.”
The thefts marked the top season total recorded in Michigan, as well as the nation, at the time.
Fisher advanced to third on a groundout. A squeeze that went back to the mound initially held her at third, but the toss by the pitcher to first for the out opened an opportunity.
“… Fisher came streaking down the line and made a headfirst slide into home,” just under the tag of the relay to the plate, scoring the game’s only run.
Pontiac Catholic junior Vicki Morrow, who would later earn the Big Ten Softball Player of the Year honor at the University of Michigan in 1987 and was later selected to the Big Ten All-Decade Team, struck out five and allowed only four hits, while New Lothrop pitcher Sandy Deneen limited Pontiac’s offense to just five scattered hits and two walks across seven innings. New Lothrop ended the year with a 29-4 record, while the Titans finished at 30-3.
In Class B, Chelsea topped West Branch Ogemaw Heights, 3-2 in 13 innings. Senior Amy Unterbrink allowed just four hits on the day. Lisa Beeman scored the game winner following a single by Amy Hume.
Ogemaw Heights held a 2-0 lead entering the seventh, but a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning by the Bulldogs pushed the game to extra innings. It was the third straight “cliffhanger” for Chelsea, which ended the year with an impressive 33-2 record – tops in school history.
“In the regional final, they scored four runs with two outs in the seventh inning to trip Dearborn Divine Child, 4-2,” according to Rob Allstetter of the Ann Arbor News, “and they needed an Unterbrink double in the bottom of the eighth inning to turn back Richmond in the semifinals, 4-3.”
Royal Oak Kimball topped Grandville 1-0 in a Class A showdown featuring two of the state’s top pitchers, Kimball senior Julie Bishop and Grandville junior Kathy VanDerMolen.
A leadoff single in the seventh was the only hit allowed by Bishop, who upped her career mark to 46-5 with the win.
Kimball’s Lisa Bean, who had walked earlier in the inning, scored the game’s only run in the third when Mary Pike smashed a two-out double over the left fielder’s head. It was one of only two hits allowed by VanDerMolen.
Bean, Pike, and VanDerMolen, Chelsea’s Unterbrink, the Ogemaw Heights battery of pitcher Pam Czach and catcher Sue Pauley, Morrow and Pontiac Catholic teammates Mary Hashinger and Bridget Syron, Gabriel Richard’s O’Sullivan, her catcher Martha Rogers, and infielder Alicia Seegert, as well as Gaylord St. Mary junior Kristin Fosdick all were among postseason all-state first-team selections named by the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association in mid-July.
Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.
PHOTOS (Top) New Lothrop’s softball team celebrated the 1982 Class C championship with a 1-0 win over Pontiac Catholic. (2) Mesick won the Class D baseball title that spring. (3) Sanford Meridian’s Ron Fillmore would go on to play football at Central Michigan. (4) Kimball’s Lisa Bean would score the only run of the 1982 Class A Final. (Photos gathered by Ron Pesch. CMU football photo courtesy of the CMU Athletics Organizational Records.)
Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
May 24, 2023
Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.
So, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.
“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.
There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.
That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.
“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”
Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.
While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.
The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.
“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”
Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.
Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.
“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”
Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.
“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”
The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.
Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.
“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”
While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.
But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.
“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”
The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.
“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”
During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.
So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.
That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.
“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”
Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.
“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”
Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.
All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.
“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)