Bluestreaks' Run Thrilling, Unforgettable

June 29, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Dawn Forter will never forget Brooklyn Woelmer’s knowing smile with Ida’s championship hopes one strike from being dashed.

The senior shortstop faced reigning champion Richmond and a two-strike count, her team down 3-1 with two outs in the seventh inning of the Division 2 championship game June 17 at Secchia Stadium.

If Ida’s run would’ve ended there, it still would’ve been worth celebrating. Seeking their first MHSAA title in the sport since 1994, the Bluestreaks had advanced to their first Final since 2006 despite entering the playoffs unranked and overlooked.

“I don’t know how many she fouled away. That last one barely touched (the bat),” Forter, her coach, said of Woelmer’s crunch time effort. “She stepped out of the box, took a deep breath, looked in the dugout and smiled.

“I’ll never lose that image. I knew when I saw her face that she was going to get on base.”

Woelmer ended up driving a double down the right-field line that brought in a run, and she crossed the plate as well on an error to tie the score at 3-3. The teams traded runs in the eighth inning before Ida put up four runs in the ninth to finish off the Blue Devils in the most thrilling conclusion from a tournament season packed with them.

There were a number of strong candidates for the final MHSAA/Applebee’s Team of the Month award for the 2016-17 school year. But it was impossible to look past Ida, which downed No. 10 Carleton Airport on the way to Michigan State, then No. 6 Stevensville Lakeshore in the Semifinal and the No. 2-ranked Blue Devils to earn a title at least a decade in the making.

Forter, who took over the program in 2004, had been part of an MHSAA runner-up finish as a player at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in 1989, and enjoyed a nice share of accolades playing shortstop at University of Detroit Mercy before also coaching at the college level and then returning to guide the Bluestreaks.

She has led the program to 349-131 record over 14 seasons and three league titles over the last four springs. This Ida team enjoyed something special from the beginning – although Forter had only 12 players, she said all could’ve started at any time – and together with three junior varsity call-ups, they won the program’s first District title since 2010 and first Regional title since 2009.

She said after the Semifinal win she was proud of all 15 of her players, and she meant it. All three of those call-ups had contributed in the Quarterfinal shutout of Flint Powers Catholic, 10 players saw the field in the Semifinal and 12 played in the championship game.

Ida had only three seniors and seven underclassmen on the postseason roster. But they showed they belonged at that late stage in the tournament – and showed some impressive poise conquering it.

“We were down a couple times during the postseason, after the other team scored first, but we chipped away,” Forter said. “We did what we do, we didn’t lose our minds, we stayed cool. We had confidence all along that we could battle back. We have extremely powerful bats, and we relied on the fact that that carried us all year. So there was no panic, even down 3-nothing in the seventh inning of the state finals. My assistant coach (Cheryl Hoffman) and I were more freaked out than they were.

“Where did they get that (composure)? I don’t know. We were a nervous mess.”

Ida had a little extra juice entering the postseason thanks to the rankings slight. Like many coaches in many sports, Forter said she doesn’t pay much attention to the weekly coaches association polls. But some of her players and their parents do. And when the Bluestreaks didn’t crack even the honorable mention list at the end of the regular season, Forter found herself a little irked too.

No doubt, that fueled the fire a little bit. “But I’d take that path again if it happens,” she admitted.

Ida finished 37-7, and after the season Woelmer, junior outfielder Karlee Lambert and junior second baseman Hannah Tuller made the all-state team. But their talents and contributions extend farther than the foul lines. Woelmer and senior outfielder Ashlyn Brososky claimed academic all-state individual honors as the Bluestreaks earned team academic all-state recognition. This year’s group boasted a grade-point average above 3.6, with no player below a 3.2. Forter also noted the group’s well-roundedness, with a number of her players active in Ida’s Young Life club and several participating in peer tutoring at the district’s elementary school.

This was a banner softball season for the southeastern corner for the state. Not only did Ida win in Division 2, but Monroe County neighbor and Forter’s alma mater St. Mary won its third straight Division 3 title. Ottawa Lake Whiteford, from bordering Lenawee County, was runner-up in Division 4.

Of that original 12 players on Ida’s roster, eight had been playing together since they were about 8 years old. They usually teamed up for the annual age-group tournaments that are part of the Monroe County Fair, coming away with at least four championships over the years against tough competition.

Those no doubt also prepared them to hang tough when their dreams rested on one more possible strike two weeks ago.

“How things played out, I don’t think I’ve ever been on an emotional rollercoaster like that as a player or a coach,” Forter said. “I was part of a state runner-up and I played college ball as well, and this didn’t compare to anything else I’ve experienced on a ball field.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
Whittemore-Prescott boys track & field - Report
Frankfort baseball - Report
Flushing girls basketball - Report
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central girls skiing - Report
Powers North Central boys basketball - Report
Dundee boys basketball - Report
Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Ida coach Dawn Forter and her players celebrate Brooklyn Woelmer (14) scoring the tying run during the seventh inning of the Division 2 Final. (Middle) The Bluestreaks, after winning an earlier round of the MHSAA Tournament.

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.)