Chemics Developing 'Excellent' Formula

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

April 10, 2017

With nine seniors and a handful of other major contributors returning from a team that advanced to the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago, expectations from outside the Midland softball program are sky high.

Inside the program, they aren’t shying away from those expectations.

But for Chemics players and coaches, the focus isn’t on winning an MHSAA title – it’s on striving for excellence every day.

“I think that we are kind of thinking this is our year, but at the same time, we’re not going to expect that – we have to work hard every day for that,” senior pitcher Maya Kipfmiller said. “We’re not focused on the end goal. Excellence encompasses everything we talk about as a team: working as hard as we can, being determined, putting in 100 percent of our effort all the time, being mentally tough and handling pressure situations.

“Having excellence in everything we do this year is going to help us get to that (end goal).”

Midland – which is scheduled to open its season Thursday against Mount Pleasant – is ranked No. 1 in Division 1 after graduating just one senior from the 2016 squad that went 35-8 and lost 4-2 in the Semifinal against Macomb Dakota.

Having a large number of returning players is one thing, but the quality of the players returning for Midland is quite another.

It starts with Kipfmiller, a Boston University signee, who is one of the state’s top pitchers. In 2016, she had an earned-run average of 0.651 while striking out 217 batters and walking just 24 in 161? innings.

“She’s a really good control pitcher,” Midland coach Robin Allen said. “She throws the ball hard, too, but her control is really what helps her. She’s a hard worker. She’s one of those people that, after practice, she goes and practices some more.”

The Midland offense was equally impressive in 2016, as it averaged 8.7 runs per game and had a team batting average of .397. Five players – Kipfmiller, Julia Gross, Jillian Elmer, Nicole Miiller and Tara Gross – are back after hitting better than .400 a year ago, led by Kipfmiller’s .664 average.

Julia Gross led the team in RBI (57), triples (four), runs (59) and home runs (four), while her twin sister Tara led the team with 30 stolen bases. Elmer, meanwhile, managed three home runs and 28 RBI despite playing just half of the team’s games.

And Allen said there are plenty of others ready to perform when given the opportunity.

“This year, our strength is our depth,” Allen said. “Some years you have some people on the team that are there to help the chemistry, and maybe don’t see as much playing time. This year, I have girls at every position that are pushing the starters. I still haven’t made up my mind for some of them.”

The Chemics do appear to be pretty established up the middle, which Allen said is another strength of his team. Kipfmiller and Miiller (catcher) make up the battery, while the Gross twins handle second and shortstop, and junior Allison Gray plays in centerfield.

Allen praised the entire group’s defensive prowess, adding that the twins could be the best defensive players he’s seen in tandem. Both of them are committed to Northwood University, along with Miiller.

“We get along really well, and they always say that for twins, they have that connection; it’s kind of true with us,” Julia Gross said. “I can always count on her being there if there’s a hard-hit ball. We have that trust.”

That trust extends beyond the twins, as the Chemics have shared the diamond with one another for multiple seasons. Kipfmiller, Elmer and the Gross twins are all entering their fourth seasons on the varsity squad, while several others are entering their third.

“We all trust each other,” Tara Gross said. “There’s such a great chemistry. A lot of us have been playing with each other for three years, or even two years. We’re really focusing on respect and unity – being a team. We’re all just in it together.”

The experience together has come in some big situations. Two years ago, the team advanced to the Quarterfinals for the third time in school history, and the first time since 2000. This past year’s Semifinal appearance was the school’s first in the sport.

If the Chemics are able to make another run, they feel that having been there before will benefit them.

“Playing at (Central Michigan University for the Quarterfinal) and playing at Michigan State (for the Semifinal), now we’ve played there before, so we know what to expect,” Julia Gross said. “It’s both the atmosphere and the moment. The atmosphere of playing at CMU and at Michigan State with all those people there and all that pressure, and in the moment, right when the game starts you have jitters and are nervous, but you get better as the game goes on.”

Before Midland can worry about playing in those atmospheres, however, it will focus on day-to-day excellence, something the players have bought into even before the first pitch of the season has been thrown.

“To me it just means that everyone is determined and everyone is working hard,” Tara Gross said. “When people come and watch our practice or our games, we want everyone to know that, ‘They’re trying to gain respect. They’re all determined. They’re trying to be excellent.’”

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 paulcostanzo3@gmail.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Midland outfielder Allison Gray connects with a pitch during last season's Quarterfinal win over Rockford. (Middle) Pitcher Maya Kipfmiller signals two outs to her teammates during that 8-1 win. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 4, 2023

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:

Softball

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.