D2 Softball: Two Pitching Heroes, One Title Shot

June 15, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Briana Combs carried Livonia Ladywood as long as she could Friday before her left knee said no more.

But thanks to the equally heroic relief of sophomore Lauren Hayes, Combs and the Blazers will get a chance Saturday to win their first MHSAA championship.

Combs, the team’s four-year ace, got within two outs of finishing off Wayland Union in Friday’s Division 2 Semifinal. But a knee injury that’s kept her out of practice the last two weeks became just too painful – and Hayes, a rarely-used pitcher who said herself she usually gives up her share of hits, came on to finish the job.

She struck out two batters and Ladywood hung on for a 4-2 win – followed by Combs coming out of the dugout not for the celebration, but to hug her closer.

“She said thank you very much,” Hayes said. “She gave me a big hug and said thank you for getting me through it.”

The No. 2 Blazers (38-3) will face No. 3 Saginaw Swan Valley in Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. Final.

Ladywood has been to the Semifinals three times over the last four seasons, and Combs was a freshman throwing in the 2009 championship game – a 4-0 loss to Niles.

She struck out five and gave up just six hits Friday before calling to the dugout after getting the first out in the seventh inning. She had a small hobble as she walked around the pitching circle, and her coach and father Scott Combs said he was unsure if she’d be able to pitch in the championship game.

Hayes will be ready. Although she’s thrown fewer than 10 innings this season, she’s been putting in a lot more practice of late to prepare for a situation in which Combs can’t go.  

“We’ve been trying massages, trying balms, trying Mr. Miyagi (of “Karate Kid” fame), anything we can,” Scott Combs. “We got six innings out of her. I didn’t think we’d get two or three.”

“We’ve gotta be a bullpen (Saturday). We’ve gotta be a staff. We can’t expect someone to go seven innings. … All we can do is ask for a chance to win the championship. We got that chance.”

Hayes also had two hits and drove in a run. Senior catcher Kayla Merice had two hits and junior third baseman Haley Obetts drove in two runs for No. 5 Wayland (38-3-1). Click for a full box score.

Saginaw Swan Valley 2, Coloma 1

Senior outfielder Heather Pollick’s two-run homer in the fourth inning was enough as the Vikings (37-3) advanced to their first MHSAA championship game since 2002.

Pollick drove in senior shortstop Elizabeth Addy, who had walked to open the inning. Coloma got on the board with a run in the bottom of the sixth, but Swan Valley senior Mackenzie Boehler struck out the side in the seventh to finish the win.

She ended with 15 strikeouts and gave up only two hits, with Coloma’s run unearned. Her Comets counterpart, sophomore Emily Najacht, gave up only four hits and struck out six. Coloma (40-3-1) was making its first Semifinal appearance. Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Livonia Ladywood pitcher Briana Combs delivers during Friday's Semifinal win over Wayland Union. (Middle) Swan Valley pitcher Mackenzie Boehler had 15 strikeouts in her team's win over Coloma.

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)