It’s been quite a spring for Almont girls athletics.
The softball team finished the Blue Water Area Conference season 10-4, its best-ever mark in the league, which features three top-10 teams and 2021 Division 3 champion Richmond.
Almont’s girls track & field team also had its best finish in the BWAC, placing third at Tuesday’s league meet.
A major reason for both? Devin Johnston.
The Almont junior is a record-setting third baseman for the softball team and a record-setting sprinter for the track team.
“Devin is such a great kid,” Almont softball coach Erik Johnson said. “She’s a hard-working athlete, and she puts so much time into both. You can see it in the way she plays the game and the way she runs her events. She doesn’t miss much practice, she juggles both and she’s a great student.”
Johnston was a first-team all-state selection in softball as a sophomore, and has followed that up with a masterful junior campaign. She was hitting .550 with a .589 on-base percentage, four home runs, 10 doubles and a school-record eight triples heading into Wednesday’s doubleheader against Yale. She’s approaching the single-season hits record (63), which she set as a sophomore. Her .930 slugging percentage is also on pace to set a school record.
On the track, she has qualified for the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in three events: 100 meters, 200 meters and the 400-meter relay. Her 200 time of 25.49 broke an 18-year-old Almont school record and is the second-fastest time in LPD3 this season. She’s ranked fifth in the 100 with her personal best of 12.63.
Being that good at two things during the same season can make for a lot of long days. But Johnston doesn’t mind.
“I enjoy doing both,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a burden. I don’t see it as a struggle. I chose to do that. At the end of the week, yes, I’m exhausted every single week. But both of my coaches are very supportive. If I need to sit out of a certain thing on a certain day, or if I need to skip out on running in softball for that day, they understand.”
This level of individual and team success does, unfortunately, leaves Johnston with a difficult choice, as Almont’s Division 3 Softball District at Richmond is June 4, the same day as the Division 3 Track & Field Finals in Kent City.
She knows what she will be doing, and while she has told those who need to know, she is not ready to divulge that publicly.
“I want to help both teams, but I have to choose one or the other,” she said. “It’s really difficult, but it’s something that, going in, I knew I would have to do eventually.”
A year ago, Johnston chose the softball District. Although, at that time, she was Almont’s lone Finals qualifier in track and did not rank as highly as she does this year. The realization it was a choice she was going to have to make also hit her later, as she wasn’t expecting to see a ton of track success in her first year as a serious competitor in the sport.
“I didn’t even expect to qualify for states; especially that year in our region, there were some pretty good girls,” she said. “When I found out, I cried over it, actually. I didn’t know if I would have the chance to go to states again. When it did hit me, it was not good. I realized how big of a decision it was.”
This year, she was more aware of the chance. A campaign to move the District softball tournament to Friday, which is allowed, didn’t come to fruition. (All schools in the bracket must approve a switch.)
Moving things around is something Johnson has become used to as Almont’s softball coach, as getting one team to agree to a change in schedule is easier than having multiple track teams adjust a quad meet.
“I worked really hard to look at schedules ahead of time and anything in my power to make adjustments that would fit and allow her to do both,” he said. “I learned a lot from last year, when we did what we could last minute. This season, I got well ahead of it. My perspective is that I want to do anything I can for my girls. When you have someone like Devin who puts an immense amount of time into both track and softball, I’m going to do what I can for her. When I share that with other coaches, they’re like, ‘Yeah, OK.’”
Johnson and track coach James Wade have worked together for a decade with Almont’s girls basketball program, as Johnson is the varsity coach and Wade has been a JV coach and varsity assistant. That, combined with Johnston’s commitment to both, makes things a bit easier.
“I think she wants to succeed in both,” Wade said. “I don’t think she wants to let either of us down. That puts us in a position where we want to do what we can to help her. She’s committed to both, and she lets us know when she can’t be there for a practice. She does what she needs to do to make it work.”
Johnston appreciates that level of support.
“Them allowing me to do this and being lenient allows me to succeed so much more because I don’t have to worry about making a coach mad,” she said. “Their support contributes to my success, and I can just play freely. It means a lot.”
All of this could lead to another decision down the road – and not just this with same possible scenario a year from now. Johnston has spent the majority of her life playing softball, and continuing that collegiately always seemed to be her most likely path. That changes a bit, though, each time she steps on the track.
“I’ve played softball my whole life, and we’ve spent so much time and money on that,” she said. “My parents (who are assistant coaches on the Almont softball team) love track now. They don’t care which one I choose. In my mind, if I put a ton of time into track, and just worked and worked at it, I feel like my times will get even better. That is an opportunity that is really intriguing. That’s a decision that I’ll have to make next year.”
The support of her softball coach parents, who have become massive track fans, takes some pressure off of Johnston.
That’s becoming a trend, as the people closest to her continue to back her as she chases all of her dreams.
“This year, I think she’s probably going to run track,” Johnson said. “And rightly so, because she has a chance to be a state champion. I’ll support her 100 percent, and the kids will, too. Hopefully we can make it through to the Regional, and she can join us the next weekend.”
Paul 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) Almont’s Devin Johnston focuses on receiving a pitch during a rare appearance behind the plate this season. (Middle) Johnston, right, emerges from the blocks during a race. (Photos courtesy of the Johnston family.)
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.