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.)
Join Kara Liles as we take a look at all of the action from the 2023 Softball State Finals Congratulations to our State Champions :
Division 1 - Hartland
Division 2 - Gaylord
Division 3 - Standish-Sterling
Division 4 - Unionville-Sebewaing