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.
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023