EAST LANSING – A 2009 Regional Semifinal loss to eventual state champion Hudsonville is the moment Caledonia softball coach Tom Kaechele points to as putting his program on the map.
Sammie Gehrls was in the stands that day, watching her sister Alexa pitch in the 2-1, 14-inning thriller. On Saturday, Sammie helped the Fighting Scots cement their place among the state’s elite, delivering an MHSAA Division 1 championship with a 6-4 win over Hartland at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium.
“That definitely set the tone for me,” said Gehrls, now a senior pitcher for the Scots. “I was a little kid, so being able to see her and that experience, I didn’t quite understand everything that was going on, but then she went and played throughout college and I was able to follow in her footsteps and look up to her all these years. She’s definitely one of my biggest supporters, and someone that I look up to very much, and has guided me in a lot of different situations and has taught me a lot.
“To be able to see where the program was at the bottom, and to be able to see what Coach Kaechele has built – these two coaches (assistants Tami Marlow and Jeff VanZytveld) have put in a lot of work and a lot of years. A lot of these girls have played for the same travel team. To see it all connect and be able to reach the ultimate goal is just so surreal.”
The title is the first for Caledonia, which had reached the Final in 2015, losing 5-0 to Warren Regina.
“I am just like in shock right now,” Caledonia junior third baseman Brooklynne Siewertsen said. “I don’t even feel like it’s real. It’s crazy.”
Gehrls picked up the win, striking out three while allowing six hits, four walks and four earned runs. Three of the runs, two of the hits and two of the walks came in the first inning, as Hartland built an early 3-1 lead on the strength of a bases-clearing double by Sam Nagel.
Following that inning, the Eagles found it harder to get things going against Gehrls, who closed the game with two perfect innings, including a pair of strikeouts to finish it out.
“If there’s one weakness Sammie has, it’s that she gets too amped up inside,” Kaechele said. “She’ll come out, and she overthrows. She didn’t have the best grip on the ball, and it was going high on her. The other day we got away with it because (the umpire) had a high strike zone. This guy didn’t have that, so she had to make adjustments within the game.
“Our pitching coach was talking to her all the time about how she had to make those adjustments, and we saw what she did with the adjustments in that last inning.”
The Fighting Scots (29-6) got down early, but a four-run, two-out rally in the third inning proved to be the difference.
“We had some miscues out there. We didn’t play super clean defense,” Hartland coach Bob Greene said. “No matter who you’re playing, that’s tough to come back from.”
It was Gehrls who started the rally with a single. She was the first of five Scots in a row to reach base, with four out of five recording hits, including a triple from Jadon Huyser that drove in a pair of runs and gave her team a 5-3 lead. Siewertsen also drove in a run in the inning, and Gehrls scored the other run on an error.
“Especially during the tournament season, we’ve really been coming through clutch with two outs,” Siewertsen said. “That’s just something that we’re pretty used to right now.”
Caledonia also bookended the game with runs, getting one on an RBI single from Abby Mitchell in the first inning and another on an RBI single from Gehrls in the seventh.
“(The run in the seventh) was huge,” Siewertsen said. “We were only up by one and with only being up one and their hitting, that extra run, that’s a lot of confidence, especially for Sammie pitching, and for us backing her up.”
Mitchell, Gehrls and Huyser all finished with three hits on the day, while Emmalee Hamp had two.
Delaney Robeson had an RBI for Hartland (33-6), driving in a run in the fifth inning. Freshman Rachel Everett took the loss, striking out nine and walking none while allowing 13 hits and two earned runs as Hartland was making its first title game appearance since 1996.
“I think that this team fought hard. We were pretty resilient all year,” Greene said. “Give it up to Caledonia. They fought hard, they put the ball in play a lot, and eventually that was their success.
“Hartland has been very successful in athletics, and this morning we were talking with the athletic director and he said it’s kind of like kids all over the school, no matter what sport, believe that they can get here. I think this is good; this is more proof of that.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Caledonia players celebrate clinching their first MHSAA championship in softball. (Middle) The Fighting Scots’ Abby Mitchell (3) slides into third base ahead of a throw.
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023