Summerfield Brings Historic End to Spring

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

June 15, 2019

EAST LANSING – For a program that had never been to a Semifinal prior to this year, Petersburg Summerfield looked awfully comfortable at McLane Stadium. 

The Bulldogs were unfazed by the pressure of playing for their first championship at Michigan State University and capped off a brilliant weekend Saturday with a 9-0 win against Saginaw Nouvel in the MHSAA Division 4 Baseball Final.  

“I preached to them from the first day of practice that we’re going to win the state championship,” Summerfield coach Travis Pant said. “No stage, no matter who we play and on any stage – we went to Decatur and played under the lights. We scheduled some big games, and I just wanted to get them used to the big stage so this was, ‘We’re supposed to be here.’ We just wanted to show that we do belong and that none of this was a fluke up to this point. I really appreciate them just coming out here and playing loose and playing our game.” 

Nobody could possibly look at what the Bulldogs did this postseason as a fluke, as they outscored opponents by a combined 89-2 in the postseason, with shutouts in each of their last three games.  

“Just hit the ball and field the ball; that’s basically all we did,” Summerfield junior pitcher Derek Clark said. “The pitchers threw strikes, the defense – I let them work behind me, and we got hot at the right time.” 

The catalyst for that was a pitching staff led by Clark, who threw a gem Saturday night to shut the Nouvel offense down. Clark went the full seven innings, striking out 11 and allowing four hits and one walk. 

He had plenty of help – some of it he provided himself – and got it early. Just like it had the day before, the Summerfield offense came out hot in the top of the first inning, scoring a pair of runs to put Nouvel in an early hole.  

Sophomore Brock Olmstead opened the scoring with an RBI single, and Clark made it 2-0 when he scored on a squeeze bunt laid down by Brandon Tyler. 

At that point, with Clark about to take the mound, the Summerfield coaches and players felt they were on their way to a title. 

“We don’t give up a lot of runs, so I knew that if we could hop on a team, we could be all right with Derek on the mound,” Pant said. “(Clark) has pitched a lot of big games – he pitched a league championship, a District championship, a Super Regional Final and a state championship and didn’t give up a run in any of those games. You look at it, and it is outrageous.” 

Nouvel (15-17-1) threatened in the bottom of the fourth inning, getting three straight singles to load the bases with two outs. But Clark was able to get a strikeout to end the threat. 

In the next half inning, the Bulldogs (28-4) were able to get a run out of seemingly nowhere and go up 3-0. With two outs, Olmstead attempted to steal third, and as he neared the bag, the throw from the catcher went into left field, as the third baseman had charged toward the plate to defend a possible bunt.  

Clark blew the game open in the top of the sixth with a three-run triple after a rally started by the bottom of the Bulldogs order. No. 8 hitter Bryce Smith started it with a single, which was followed by a single from pinch hitter Kirk Knerr, and a perfectly placed bunt by leadoff hitter Brendan Dafoe to load the bases for Clark. One batter later, Clark was driven in by a sacrifice fly to left from Olmstead to make the score 7-0. 

“If their whole lineup is hitting, that makes things pretty difficult, right?” Nouvel coach Shawn Larson said. “We knew coming in they’re a good hitting team. We just assumed we would be able to put the bat on the ball as well, because we’re the same type of team. They do a lot of things that we do with their energy and their momentum and their enthusiasm. We just weren’t able to capitalize.” 

The Bulldogs added a run in the top of the seventh inning, as Mark Keller hit a leadoff triple and was driven in by a Devin Albain single. Albain scored on a Smith single to make it 9-0. 

Nouvel’s Brady Alverson took the loss, striking out seven and allowing three runs in four innings. Dafoe and Smith each had two hits for Summerfield. 

Long after the game ended, the Bulldogs players and coaches lingered down the left field line, soaking up the moment. 

“It means a ton,” Clark said. “We have 18 league titles, and to finally get the first state championship means a lot to this program and this school.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Summerfield raises its first Finals baseball championship trophy Saturday night at McLane Stadium. (Middle) Derek Clark dives toward the plate while Nouvel catcher Joe Bartles waits for a throw.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

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.

Bay & ThumbSo, 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.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.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.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“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.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.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 CostanzoPaul 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.)