Allen Park, Dakota Hold On for Close Semifinal Wins to Set Up High-Profile Decider

By Tom Kendra
Special for

June 16, 2022

EAST LANSING - Things were not going according to plan for Allen Park early in Thursday morning’s Division 1 Semifinal at Secchia Stadium.

Mattawan, fresh off an upset of top-ranked South Lyon on Tuesday, came out in giant-killer mode again, jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead against the No. 2-ranked Jaguars.

“Those nerves, they got us early, but we came back to play,” said third-year Allen Park coach Michael Kish, whose team will try to take the final step Saturday after last year’s D1 runner-up finish.

Allen Park scratched back to tie the game with single runs in the bottom of the third and fourth innings, setting the stage for junior Mia Hool’s two-run single in the bottom of the sixth to complete the come-from-behind, 4-2 victory.

“I knew that I was due,” said Mia Hool of her hit to right field, which scored Madilyn Ramey and Ashten Omodio. “It feels great to know that I had my team’s back. When we get behind, we know we have to stay up and keep the energy. Our bats will come around.”

Both of Thursday’s Division 1 Semifinals featured cross-state matchups, with the east side prevailing in both contests.

Allen Park, 37-4-1, will go for its first softball Finals championship at 10 a.m. Saturday against No. 3 Macomb Dakota, which hung on for a 2-1 victory over Hudsonville. The Final should be a classic between the strong hitting of Allen Park and the dominant pitching of Dakota junior Megan Nuechterlein, who struck out 15 in her team’s Semifinal win.

It took the Jaguars a couple of innings Thursday to adjust to Mattawan junior Madison Vrba, and it was a run-scoring single by freshman Kiley Carr in the bottom of the third inning which broke the ice and changed the momentum of the game.

Allen Park tied it in the fourth, as Avery Garden smacked a leadoff triple and was driven in on a single by junior pitcher Morgan Sizemore.

Sizemore, who improved to 21-4 with the victory, allowed seven hits during the first three innings, then pitched no-hit ball over the final four innings.

“I usually do better pitching once my team scores,” explained Sizemore, who pitched last year’s Final when Allen Park lost to South Lyon, 5-0. “I start thinking different on the mound when my team is hitting behind me. Once we started scoring, the energy changed.”

Sizemore and Carr both finished 2-for-3 at the plate to lead the Jaguars, who finished with seven hits.

Mattawan, which also finished with seven hits, came out aggressively and with no sign of nerves – although none of its players had advanced out of Districts before this spring.

Alyssa Bloomfield and Eliana Ruhrup both singled in the first inning, before freshman Audrey Ford brought them both home with a single to right field. Ford and Ruhrup both went 2-for-3 for Mattawan (24-16), which put it all together in the postseason for a memorable run to the Final Four.

“It was a great start, and we also had a lot of runners on base in the second and third innings, but we couldn’t get that key hit to keep it rolling,” said 22nd-year Mattawan coach Alicia Smith, whose team finished second in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference. “It’s a big environment and a big game, and I think the girls got just a little bit tight.”

Click for the full box score.

Macomb Dakota 2, Hudsonville 1

Megan Nuechterlein was dominant on the mound – and at the plate – as Macomb Dakota won its 21st consecutive game.

The Cougars scored runs in the third and fourth innings to take a 2-0 lead and were cruising, until the young Hudsonville team made a charge in the seventh inning.

After a single by Jessica Dobias, sophomore leadoff hitter Megan Beemer lined a triple into the gap in right-center to score Dobias and put the tying run 60 feet away.

Macomb Dakota softballThat set up a showdown between Nuechterlein, a junior who has a 0.84 ERA and has committed to Kent State University, and Hudsonville junior shortstop Ella Reifschneider, the Eagles’ leading hitter with a .536 batting average and 41 RBI.

Reifschneider got around a pitch but pulled it directly to Dakota first baseman Madison Franzoni, who grabbed the ball and touched her glove to the base to end the game.

“There were definitely some nerves there, but knowing that I have great defense behind me really helps,” said Nuechterlein, who improved to 17-2 on the season and added 15 strikeouts. “I try to spin the ball more and change up speed more as it gets later in the game.”

Jenna Higgins, a freshman outfielder, went 2-for-2 to lead Dakota at the plate. Alexis Olterdorf singled in Higgins in the third inning to open the scoring, and Nuechterlein had a long solo home run over the left-centerfield fence in the fourth inning.

Those two runs turned out to be all the Cougars needed, thanks to the overpowering pitching of Nuechterlein.

“I’ve been saying that she’s probably the best pitcher in the state of Michigan right now,” said third-year Dakota coach Dan Vitale, whose team won the Macomb Conference Red. “We know we are going to have our hands full (Saturday). We have to hit the ball better.”

Hudsonville, 34-7, finished with seven hits, compared to six for Dakota. Junior third baseman Ashley Sorrell finished 2-for-3 to lead the Eagles, who had just two senior starters.

“There is no quit at all in this team,” said 41st-year Hudsonville coach Tom Vruggink, who has won 1,124 games during his career. “That was a very good pitcher we faced, but we kept battling and hung in there and we were that close to tying it up.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Allen Park’s Mia Hool lines up a powerful swing during Thursday’s opening Division 1 Semifinal. (Middle) Macomb Dakota’s Angela Petrovitch begins her sprint to first base. (Click for more Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)