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.”
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.
That 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.”
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.)
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.