Allen Park's Return to Finals Weekend Ends with 1st-Time Celebration

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

June 18, 2022

EAST LANSING – Allen Park senior Madilyn Ramey remembers the walk to the Old College Field awards area last year following a disappointing loss in the Division 1 Softball Final to South Lyon.

Ramey and her teammates took the same path this season. But this time, they enjoyed a much different emotion.

Second-ranked Allen Park won the program’s first Division 1 Final on Saturday after blanking Macomb Dakota 5-0 at Secchia Stadium.

“Last year, that same walk we just had was a different type of feeling,” said Ramey, who had a home run and a pair of outstanding defensive plays in her team’s championship game return.

“Now that we came back here, we rewrote the story and it just feels amazing.” 

Ramey, who will play at the University of Michigan, was one of eight starters back from last year.

“That was our main focus, and we really wanted to get here again,” she said. “It was just nice to execute today, and we really fed off each other’s energy. That’s what it has been about these last few games. Our energy has kept us in the game.”

Allen Park coach Michael Kish, whose team finished 38-4-1, said his team was determined to return to the Final and avenge last season’s loss.

“Three hundred and 65 days of motivation,” he said. “Six a.m. workouts, we had 12-hour days and we did everything we could. That was my thing. I know the more you invest, the more it’s going to be worth it.

“We knew we had the talent; that wasn’t the issue. It was more of the confidence and the family aspect.”  

In the third inning, Allen Park snared the early momentum.

Dakota/Allen Park softballAfter a leadoff single by senior Madison Hool and a sacrifice bunt, freshman Kiley Carr tripled over the right fielder’s head to give the Jaguars a 1-0 lead.

Carr would score to make it 2-0 after a Dakota fielding error off the bat of Makalya Sitarski.

A squeeze bunt by Avery Garden sent Sitarski home, and it was 3-0.

“That inning was huge, and it’s momentum,” Kish said. “Before the game we were loose, and we’ve been here before. They had the nerves, and we knew if we got on them early it would be tough for them to come back.”

In the sixth inning, senior Madilyn Ramey slugged a solo home run and the lead expanded to 4-0.

“It felt amazing,” Ramey said. “I hit one last year here. My first at bat I struck out and I just had to reset, and it felt great to get that.”

Kish had high praise for Ramey’s overall play.

“She’s a gamer, she’s a competitor and she plays the game like a 10-year-old girl that just fell in love with the game,” Kish said. 

Allen Park tacked on one more in the top of the seventh inning. Another sacrifice bunt from Garden scored Faith Peschke, who led off the inning with a walk.

Third-ranked Dakota (32-5), which won the Division 1 title in 2017, outhit the Jaguars 5-4, but couldn’t get any timely ones off Allen Park senior pitcher Morgan Sizemore and a stellar defense. 

“That’s a really good team over there,” Cougars coach Dan Vitale said. “They are well coached and their shortstop … we know why she’s committed to Michigan. She made some great plays against us and stole some hits from us.

“We weren’t expected to get this far, and we did, so we’re really proud of our kids. We plan on being here next year.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Madilyn Ramey’s teammates welcome her at the plate after a sixth-inning home run Saturday at Secchia Stadium. (Middle) An Allen Park runner gets back to third base as Dakota’s Gracie Maloney takes 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.)