Coach's Hunch Proves True for Lakeshore

June 14, 2014

By Kelsey Pence
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Denny Dock remembers looking at his team midway through the regular season and thinking, “We’re on the verge of being something special.”

It turns out, the Stevensville Lakeshore coach in his 25th year was right.

The Lancers overcame a sloppy start and rallied back for a 4-3 win in the MHSAA Division 2 Final against Livonia Ladywood on Saturday at Secchia Stadium at Michigan State University.

“A lot of tears in this trophy,” Dock said. “There were times during the season where we weren’t very good. As we kept playing, as frustrated as I was and as frustrated as they were with me, we never lost to a bad team. Our losses are to good quality teams. I kept saying, if we can just finish a couple of these, we’ve got a chance.”

The Lancers ended the season at 36-9 and leave East Lansing with the school’s seventh softball title.

“This tournament I thought we really played extremely well,” Dock said. “These kids have really pushed themselves. We’ve pushed them to their limit, and some of them we’ve had to back off. It’s been a real up-and-down season, but they’ve worked through it.”

The Blazers scored first, putting up two runs in the first inning, both unearned on two Lakeshore errors.

Christina Meyer was hit by pitch to start the game and Haley Lawrence reached on an error. Haley Thibeault struck out the next batter, but Ladywood pitcher Rozlyn Price reached on a throwing error, scoring Meyer.

Lawrence then scored on Hallea Garcia’s foul pop-up.

“I can’t repeat what I said to them in the circle,” Dock said with a laugh. “We’ve tried all along to get them to play the game. You don’t play against a team in this game; you play the game. The kids sure found a way.”

Rachel Riedel managed to get the Lancers on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning, smacking the first pitch she saw over the left field fence.

“My coach says once you find your pitch, you swing at it,” Riedel said. “She was throwing good, and when I saw it I knew. I love the first pitch, and I was ready. I felt good and when I hit it, it felt great.

“Not trying to brag, but when we started hitting, our whole team just got up,” she added. “Once one of us hits, I feel like it’s a train. We all start hitting. It’s a great feeling having a team we can trust. “

Rebecca Meyer hit a drive to center to reach base and Mahri Younger subbed in as a pinch runner. Rachel Clem brought her home with a sacrifice bunt to tie the score at 2-all.

“She hid the ball really well, which was harder to see,” Riedel said of Price. “I think we just needed to concentrate more. We were so anxious and ready for this game that when we got here, we were just like we want to swing at everything. Once we got her, it just stuck with us.”

Haley Thibeault and Mackenzie Sanders walked to start the bottom of the fifth inning, and Hunter Thibeault was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Alex Forsythe then singled to score Toni Priebe, running for Haley Thibeault. Carpenter, running for Sanders, was tagged out at home on the same play – but Riedel’s sacrifice fly to right field scored Hunter Thibeault.

The Blazers (29-14) loaded the bases in the top of the sixth inning, and Rachel Hendrickson’s line drive past third base cut the deficit to one run with two outs and the bases still loaded. But the Blazers couldn’t bring the tying run home.

“With bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth, we needed one hit and we got the bat on the ball. It was just a little too high,” Ladywood coach Scott Combs said. “I can’t be happier. They were feeling a little bit sluggish in the middle of the year when we were like 8-6. We did a wake-up call and got hot and played really well the last six weeks. As you can see, we can play with anybody. If you can come in here and go 4-3 with those guys you can’t be upset.”

Price struck out nine for the Blazers, walking three and giving up five hits in six innings. Hayley Thibeault struck out three, walked two and gave up just three hits.

“In that last inning Haley stuck three or four pitches right where she needed to stick them,” Dock said. “It was a beautiful thing.”

Click for the full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Stevensville Lakeshore players hold up their MHSAA Division 2 championship trophy Saturday. (Middle) Lakeshore shortstop Alex Forsythe had a hit and an RBI in the Final.

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.)