Constantine Follows Slugger on Fast Start
By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com
May 11, 2017
By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
Kim Maddox has an incredible feel for the game of softball. Growing up with significantly impaired hearing, that’s been a necessity.
Maddox, a junior slugger at Constantine High School who set her school’s season home run record in 2016 with 11 bombs, has already blasted 12 through 23 games this spring in playing a major role in the Falcons’ 22-1 record.
With the aid of cochlear implants she’s had since she was a small child, Maddox can hear, but she has to concentrate more than anyone else on the field. That is just one of many traits Constantine coach Marge Caid said sets her third baseman apart.
“She misses some things, but she does pay attention more than the others,” Caid said.
“I just look at the coach all the time,” Maddox said.
Precision and power are what’s obvious about Maddox, not any kind of disability.
“She is physically probably the strongest player I have ever coached. She has great bat speed, and her technique and her form are textbook. She works very, very hard and she is very dedicated to making sure that swing is perfect.”
Maddox fully expected to have this kind of year individually and as a team.
“We have good hitting, and this is a good team together,” she said. “I love my team. I have hitting lessons and I’ve been practicing and practicing. The biggest thing for me is to relax and then attack the ball.”
Like any good squad, success has been predicated on more than just individual talent. Constantine graduated some extremely skilled and productive players at the end of a 2016 campaign that set a record for wins in a season with a 32-6 record. The Falcons went 12-0 in Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley division play.
The loss of starting catcher Dylan King and hurler Bailey Potter to graduation didn’t slow the Falcons down. They have won 10 straight games since their lone loss of the year to a solid Three Rivers team.
Constantine has outscored opponents 247-29 and won by shutout nine times. In all, Constantine boasts five players hitting over .350, while its pitching has been effective and reliable.
Emily Mallo is 9-0 in the circle with a 0.56 ERA, and Mercedes Cole is 13-1 with a 0.66 ERA. The two combined have allowed 75 hits and 11 earned runs.
“We hit the ball well, which is our biggest strong point,” Caid said, “besides having a bunch of players who have been on the varsity team for quite a while.”
Caid hasn’t submitted information to the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association for ranking purposes because she wants to see what her team is really made of down the stretch — which includes the toughest opponents of the year.
“We did play Paw Paw and Three Rivers, but other than that, I can’t justify tooting our horn that much,” she said. “We want to make less base-running mistakes, and a couple fielding things we need to work out.
The Falcons have a critical showdown with rival Schoolcraft today, which will likely determine the divisional championship. Schoolcraft is undefeated in Valley play after Monday’s pivotal sweep of Kalamazoo Christian. Both Schoolcraft and Constantine are 8-0.
“The rest of our season is going to be tough,” Caid said. “If we can’t play with these guys, then we’re going to be up a creek when it comes to Districts. We have to play ball and choke it out like we did last year.”
Constantine’s tremendous season in 2016 fizzled out with a Division 3 District Semifinal loss to Bridgman (9-1). This year, the District tournament includes familiar opponents in Galesburg-Augusta, Comstock, Kalamazoo Hackett, Schoolcraft and Parchment.
It certainly has taken a team effort to come back strong again this year and duplicate last year’s regular-season success.
Still, Maddox’s staggering numbers stand out in the crowd, especially considering she has another year of prep ball remaining. Maddox is hitting .589, which isn’t even the best average on the team. Kallie Sears, with 42 hits on the year, is operating at a .592 clip. Maddox was hovering around .700 before struggling at the plate this past weekend.
In 86 plate appearances, she has registered 43 total hits to lead the team. Of those, seven were doubles and three went for triples. She has 53 runs batted in so far and 38 runs scored. She also had a .640 on-base percentage and a 1.260 slugging percentage. Surprisingly, Maddox has been walked just 10 times.
“I hate being walked,” she said.
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Constantine players celebrate as Kim Maddox (15) crosses the plate to score a run. (Middle) Maddox eyes an approaching pitch during a game this spring. (Photos courtesy of JoeInsider.com.)
Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
So, 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.
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.
“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.
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 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.)