EAST LANSING – Riley Phillips is one of the smallest girls on Hartland’s softball team and she bats way down in the No. 8 spot in the order.
But Thursday, she delivered her team’s biggest hit.
Phillips smacked a triple to deep left-center field in the fourth inning, scoring two runs to help the Eagles soar to a 4-0 victory over Lake Orion in the second Division 1 Semifinal at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium.
“I can’t believe I got ahold of it like that,” said Phillips, a converted outfielder who is playing second base for the first time this season.
“It was an amazing feeling to slide into third base and have everyone cheering for me. My senior year couldn’t be any better.”
It actually has a chance to get a little better Saturday, when Hartland will play for its first softball championship since 1996 when it faces Brownstown Woodhaven in the Division 1 Final at 12:30 p.m.
Woodhaven also posted a shutout, blanking Grand Blanc, 3-0, to advance to its first softball championship game.
Based on Thursday’s results, Saturday’s Final could be a pitching duel between Woodhaven’s Grace Usher and Hartland’s Kylie Swierkos.
Swierkos held Lake Orion’s previously hot bats to just four hits, all singles, with no walks and seven strikeouts. The senior did not allow a baserunner and was perfect after the third inning.
“I had a lot of nerves at first, but I guess that’s to be expected playing here,” said Swierkos, who improved her season record to 22-1. “To go this far with this team is just so special. I’m glad I get to share it with these people.”
Her dominant performance came as no surprise to fifth-year Hartland coach Taylor Wagner.
“Kylie has worked her whole life for this moment,” said Wagner, who has led the Eagles to two Regional titles out of four attempts as head coach. “She was built for this.”
Swierkos not only delivered on the mound, but with the bat as well. In fact, all four of Hartland’s runs were knocked in by the three seniors at the bottom of the batting order – one by Faith DeLanoy in the seventh spot, two by Phillips at No. 8 and one by Swierkos at No. 9.
That type of balance throughout the lineup has allowed Hartland to get back to the Finals and in position to win the school’s second softball state championship.
“They make it easy for me as a coach because, from top to bottom, they are getting the job done,” said Wagner, who is assisted by Lindsay Brandon. “This is one of the toughest sports to win a championship in. You have to win seven games, and you have to be perfect.”
Lake Orion, 33-7, came into the postseason unranked and made an impressive run to the Semifinals, including a 2-1 upset of top-ranked Macomb Dakota in the Regional Final. The Dragons had scored double-digit runs in their first three postseason games, but their bats went cold Thursday against Swierkos.
Lake Orion sophomore pitcher Rylee Limberger did her part to keep her team in the game, allowing eight hits and four earned runs in six innings of work.
Brownstown Woodhaven 3, Grand Blanc 0
Grace Usher was dominant on the mound, using her changeup and impeccable control to keep Grand Blanc off-balance.
Usher went the full seven innings in the win, allowing just two hits and striking out nine.
“I was nervous at first; I was shaking,” said Usher, a junior who upped her season record to 19-3. “Once we scored those two runs, it settled me right down.”
The Warriors scored two runs in the first inning and added another in the third – with both of those rallies started by doubles from sophomore shortstop Ariel Krueger, who scored two runs. Lindsay Marlewitz also had two hits for the Warriors.
That was more than enough runs for Usher, who said the strategy coming into the game was pitching the Bobcats down and away, and throwing plenty of changeups.
“When Grace is on her game, I would put her up against anyone in the state,” said second-year Woodhaven coach Ken Kroll, before adding a little caveat before Saturday’s Final. “But we have three pitchers we can go to, and they all have different stuff.”
Usher’s performance overshadowed a strong outing from Grand Blanc senior Sydney Long, who allowed five hits and struck out eight in six innings.
Brownstown Woodhaven, 35-4 and ranked No. 10 entering the postseason, is making school history with every game this postseason, winning its first softball Regional title last weekend, and now adding Quarterfinal and Semifinal wins.
“We are playing care-free,” explained Kroll. “The girls are feeling it right now. I would say we are very confident, but not cocky.”
PHOTOS (Top) Hartland catcher Sadie Malik shows Semifinals-level intensity Thursday. (Middle) Eagles ace Kylie Swierkos makes her move toward the plate during her team’s victory. (Below) A Woodhaven hitter connects during her team’s Semifinal win. (Photos by John Castine/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Evart was added to the MHSAA softball record book 23 times for achievements during an outstanding three-season run that has included a Division 3 runner-up finish in 2022.
Then-junior Katelyn Gostlin twice was included for hitting streaks, of 26 straight games during the 2022 season and 22 straight this past spring. She also was added for 23 doubles in 2022, and then-senior Addysen Gray was added for 16 doubles in 2023. Ally Theunick was added for 11 home runs this spring and 23 over her first three seasons with one more to play. Gostlin, Theunick and 2021 graduate Ryenn Baumgardner all were added for single-game accomplishments.
Among team record listings, Evart had 405 hits, 419 runs, 85 doubles, 35 home runs and 328 RBI over 39 games this spring. Gostlin has signed with Mid-Michigan College, and Gray is playing softball and basketball there this school year.
See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA softball record book:
Olivia Mikowski followed up her Maple City Glen Lake team’s Division 4 basketball championship in March with a national record this spring on the diamond. She tied the MHSAA and national records with 20 triples, over 35 games, among five record book entries she earned. She also is listed for 74 RBI this past season, while now-junior Jessie Pugh earned a listing with 66 runs scored over 37 games. Mikowski is continuing at Schoolcraft College.
Essexville Garber finished a combined 71-14 over the last two seasons and reached the Division 2 Semifinals in 2022 after winning its first Regional title since 1997, along the way achieving several record book performances for both team and individual lists. The Dukes hit 53 home runs over 41 games this past spring, tying for sixth most as senior Sarah Basket set a program record and made the individual list with 12. Basket also was added for 21 doubles in 2022, with Laney Kokaly making the doubles list that season with 16 and Ella Wagner making it was 16 this past season. Kortney Kotenko set the previous Garber home run record in 2022, making the record book list with 11. All four were seniors in 2023. Kotenko is continuing at Madonna, while Basket is playing at Lawrence Tech and Wagner at Northwood. Kokaly is playing volleyball at Northwood.
Three Rivers and now-senior Ava Forman made the single-season hits list with 75 over 41 games and the single-season doubles list for 22 last spring and also 18 over 40 games as a sophomore. Three Rivers as a team made the records for 423 hits, 101 doubles and 277 RBI over 42 games in 2023.
Armada’s Taylor Capozzo had 19 doubles in 2023 to make that single-season list, plus hit back-to-back home runs in a game against Yale, and Natalie Sauer drove in six runs in a game against Brown City. Capozzo is a sophomore this school year, and Sauer graduated in the spring and is continuing at St. Clair County Community College.
Schoolcraft’s Lauren Evans hit 31 doubles in 2023 as a junior, the second-most in MHSAA history, as the Eagles totaled 118 over 41 games – also the second-most doubles on the team list. Schoolcraft also made record lists for 436 hits and 316 RBI for the season and five home runs in a game against Battle Creek Pennfield (which included back-to-back homers by Evans). Teammate Sydney Drenth, then a sophomore, made the doubles list with 22, and senior Alayna Meade made the same list with 16. Meade is continuing at Cornerstone, and Evans has committed to sign with Saginaw Valley State.
Farmington Hills Mercy finished 29-1 in 2023, earning four record book entries along the way. The Marlins tied for second-fewest runs allowed, giving up only 16. They also made lists for 11 consecutive shutouts, 385 strikeouts and a .435 average and just missed the single-season shutouts list with 23.
Unionville-Sebewaing’s 2022 Division 4 championship season produced another series of record book-worthy accomplishments. As a team, USA set an MHSAA record with 128 doubles over 40 games and was fourth on the team RBI list with 391, while also earning entries with 44 runs scored, 485 hits and 48 home runs. Individually, then-sophomore Gabriella Crumm was added for 80 hits, 21 doubles and 11 home runs, and then-senior Laci Harris was added for 11 home runs as well plus 72 hits, 19 doubles and career totals of 31 home runs, 170 RBI, 170 runs scored and 51 doubles over 123 games despite her sophomore season of 2020 being canceled due to COVID-19. Then-junior Oliva Jubar was added for 18 doubles, and then-sophomore Ella Neumann was added for 17. Harris is continuing her career at Madonna.
Paige Ratliff finished her Battle Creek Lakeview career in the spring with 10 record book entries across a variety of categories. Most notably, she totaled 37 doubles, 30 home runs and a .520 career average over three seasons and 108 games. She’s continuing at Lake Forest College (Ill.).
Hudson then-freshman Taylor Kopin opened her high school career in the spring by scoring 65 runs to make the individual record book. In doing so, she also helped Hudson make the team record book list with 417 runs scored over 39 games.
Haslett’s Payden Whitmore earned her school’s first softball record book entry since 2007 by hitting 12 triples over 38 games in the spring. She’s a junior this school year.
Mancelona has a pair of softball players who reached career lists last season with more to play. Now-senior Ella Jones was added for 20 doubles as a sophomore in 2022 and 19 this spring, and made the career doubles list with 39 and a season to play. Now-junior Ella Schram was added for her 13 triples as a freshman and .650 average this spring, and she’s on the career triples list with 23 and will qualify for the career average list if she keeps hitting at this pace over her next seasons.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart hit the second-most triples in MHSAA history on the way to the Division 4 Semifinals in the spring. The Irish piled up 48 over 43 games, led by freshman Mairin Wheaton, who hit 12 over 42, respectively.
Reed City made the team record lists with 78 doubles and 252 RBI over 39 games in the spring, and a pair of standouts also were added. Morgan Hammond, then a freshman, and then-sophomore Paityn Enos both were added for single-game RBI, plus Enos was added for 72 hits and 20 doubles and Hammond was added for 22 doubles.
Manton now-junior Adriana Sackett earned her first record book listings in the spring. Twice she hit back-to-back home runs in games, and she also was added for 11 homers total over 26 games.
A trio of Ravenna standouts put up a series of record book-caliber totals over the last two seasons, including some of the highest-ranking all time. Emma Gillard graduated in the spring with nine record book entries, including for 85 runs (fourth most) and 13 triples (tied for 20th) this past season, and she made career lists with 200 runs, 27 triples and a .532 average over 111 games and three years. Emma Herremans is just a junior but has 11 record book listings after two seasons including for 25 doubles (11th-most) as a freshman in 2022 and a .652 average and 73 RBI this past spring, and she’s already on career lists for doubles and triples. Kara Postema graduated this spring with six record book entries, including season and career records for times hit by pitch (23 and 49, respectively), and she also made career lists with 36 doubles and 153 RBI over 111 games and three seasons. Gillard is continuing at Ferris State and Postema at Cornerstone.
PHOTO Evart's Riley Brigham connects during her team's Division 3 Final against Millington in 2022.