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.
Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.
She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.
See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:
Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.
Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.
A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.
Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.
Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.
Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.
Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.
A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.
PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.