By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Portage Central senior Gina Verduczo was maybe a tad bummed as she recalled in detail two walks she gave up Thursday morning. After all, she’d walked at most 10 batters this entire season.
But the Mustangs’ ace also was a little surprised to find out some of her personal highlights in what might be the most memorable game of her high school career – until Portage Central plays again in Saturday’s MHSAA Division 1 Final.
Verduczo threw a no-hitter and drove in the game’s only run in the sixth inning as Portage Central advanced to its first championship game since 1977 with a 1-0 victory over Utica Ford.
She’d glanced at the Secchia Stadium scoreboard a few times. But apparently she missed the “0” in Ford’s hits column indicating her near-perfect performance from the pitching circle.
“My dad was a baseball player; he was a pitcher, and he taught me to focus on the job and hand and not look at what you’ve done,” Verduczo said. “You still have six more outs to go, three more outs to go. Obviously, down to the end, she could’ve gotten a hit. I still had a job to do.”
Portage Central (42-3), ranked No. 3, will try to finish that job against No. 4 Bay City Western in the championship game at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Verduczo finished the Semifinal with 11 strikeouts and allowed only those two runners who reached on bases on balls. She closed the game by striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh inning.
As Mustangs coach Tom Hamilton pointed out, Verduczo also knows the disappointment of falling in such a tight game. Portage Central was top-ranked in Division 1 heading into last season’s tournament, but lost to eventual MHSAA champion Mattawan on a walk-off home run in the District Final.
“If there’s a person we’ve got on this team (that) we want on that mound, she’s got that bulldog mentality,” Hamilton said. “This is her moment to shine.
“She’s been in games like that where she’s been on the other end. So it’s nice to see her be on this end of it.”
Portage Central senior outfielder Lea Foerster singled with one out in the sixth inning, and after moving to second on senior Taylor Snyder’s sacrifice came home on Verduczo’s single to right field.
Verduczo had a pair of singles, the only batter in the game with multiple hits.
“We’re excited for the last seven innings,” Verduczo said, referring to Saturday’s Final. “This was one of our goals, and we’re happy to be part of it.”
Utica Ford freshman Nikki Sorgi also was impressive in the circle, allowing only six hits and walking one batter in her team’s first Semifinal appearance. Ford finished 30-9. Click for a full box score.
Bay City Western 2, Romeo 1
Bay City Western (40-3) returned nearly the same lineup that carried the Warriors last season to their first MHSAA championship game in team history. And the lessons learned during that run surely paid off in Thursday’s second Semifinal.
Western fell behind 1-0 in the fourth inning when Romeo sophomore shortstop Morgan Gardner drilled a Hannah Leppek pitch over the left-field fence – the only home run Leppek has given up this season.
“I don’t like that feeling, obviously, and I wasn’t used to it,” said Leppek, an all-stater last season. “I had to teach myself really quickly how to get over it.”
Still, with Romeo pitcher Taylor Weaver also dominating, it began to look like the Bulldogs would be advancing to their first-ever MHSAA Final instead of Western returning.
But Leppek did bounce back quickly. She doubled in the tying run and scored the go-ahead in the sixth inning, and allowed only three hits the rest of the game.
Leppek ended with two hits in three at bats, and struck out six batters while walking only one.
“I learned (in last year’s Final) how to handle my emotions and the stress and the crowd, and everything like that,” Leppek said. “(And) my hits definitely built me back up.”
Sophomore second baseman Kelsie Popp – whose walk-off homer Tuesday pushed the Warriors past Hudsonville 4-2 and into the Semifinals – drove in Leppek with a double.
“She’s starting to learn how to be a clutch hitter, isn’t she,” Western coach Rick Garlinghouse said of Popp. “She comes through. She protects (Meredith) Rousse, (Kaylynn) Carpenter and Leppek in our batting order, and they can’t pitch around those three with her batting fourth. We’re a pretty hard team to beat that way.”
Weaver allowed only four hits, striking out six without allowing a walk. Romeo, ranked No. 2, finished 31-8. Click for a full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Portage Central pitcher Kim Verduczo fires a pitch during her Division 1 Semifinal no-hitter. (Middle) Bay City Western pitcher Hannah Leppek unloads a pitch in the Warriors’ Semifinal victory.
Jada Bolhuis finished up her Otsego softball career this spring all over the MHSAA record book – and despite playing only three seasons because 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.
Bolhuis owns 12 entries in the MHSAA record book including for 228 career runs (16th all-time), 230 career hits and a .622 career batting (sixth all-time) over 112 games and three varsity seasons.
She also made the hitting streak list twice, with a run of 44 straight games with a hit from April of her freshman year until the end of April of her junior season, and for a 33-game hitting streak during her junior and senior springs. The 44-game streak is the second-longest in MHSAA history.
Bolhuis also is a track sprinter and is slated to run at University of Tampa.
We’re continuing to catch up on adding record book listings. See below for more of the most recent added for softball.
Richland Gull Lake’s Savanna Disbrow had a par of significant run-producing games over the course of two weeks in May 2021. She drove in seven runs against Mattawan that May 5, then eight in a win over Delton Kellogg on May 20. She played this past season at Bemidji State in Minnesota.
Gabby Schloop put up a senior season to remember for Midland in 2021, posting the fifth-most runs scored (83) and tying for the fifth-most doubles (27) in MHSAA history, while also making the single-season hits list with 70 and career doubles list with 49 over three seasons. Taylor Sanborn also made the single-season hits list in 2021 as a senior, and also with 70. Sanborn continued her career at Calvin University, and Schloop at Northwood.
Maddisyn Miller also was added for RBI in a single game, driving in seven May 12, 2021, for Ovid-Elsie against Laingsburg. She is a junior this fall.
Rochester Adams earned its first softball record book entries in 2021. Then-junior Sabrina Lee was added for getting hit by 17 pitches over 34 games. Teammate Elizabeth Blaine, a senior that season, hit home runs in consecutive at bats, both in the second inning, of a game against Auburn Hills Avondale.
Potent offense helped drive Grandville to a 31-5 finish in 2019, with a number of top hitters in the record book. As a team, the Bulldogs are listed for 399 hits, 76 doubles, 34 home runs and 292 RBI that season. Then-senior Taylor Buiter was added for 10 home runs, including a pair in consecutive at bats, and then-junior Maddi Ungrey was added for three home runs in the same game all in consecutive at bats as well. Then-senior Lexi Dukesherer became the first player listed for being hit by a pitch twice in the same inning, and she also made the single-game list in that category for three. Additionally, former Grandville standout Carrie Mesman was added for her 17 doubles in 2015. Mesman went on to play at Aquinas College, and Buiter played at Ferris State.
Bath’s Bailee Buck has become the first entry for career times hit by pitches, as she totaled 30 over 99 games from 2017-19 (with her senior season of 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). She also made the single-game list with three HBPs as a junior. Teammate Ally Estrada was added twice for hitting consecutive home runs, five days apart during the 2019 season, and also for driving in seven runs in the first of those games May 18, 2019, against Algonac. Estrada graduated this spring.
Grosse Pointe South’s Shannon Dame became the second player added to the single-season hit-by-pitch list. She was hit by 20 pitches during the 2021 season, when she was a junior.
A trio of New Lothrop hitters were added for hitting during the 2021 spring, led by then-junior Jersey Hemgesberg who was added for 73 hits, 25 doubles and 12 home runs over 38 games – with the 25 doubles tying for seventh-most in MHSAA history. Additionally, Brynne Birchmeier was added for 20 doubles and Marissa Rombach for 17. Both are juniors this fall.
Bloomfield Hills sophomore Hannah Grant made the single-game lists for home runs and RBI during a win over Berkley on April 7. She had three homers and six RBI in the 9-7 win; the three homers tied for second-most in one contest.
Buchanan sophomore Hailee Kara also joined the single-game RBI list with nine during a 19-7 win over Vicksburg on April 21. The nine RBI tied for seventh-most in one contest.
PHOTO Jada Bolhuis makes a throw to first base during Otsego’s District Final win over South Haven this spring. (Photo by Gary Shook.)