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June 16, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Everyone who follows high school softball in Michigan expected another dominating Meghan Beaubien performance in Friday’s first Division 3 Semifinal.

But few expected a pitchers dual – broken up only by Beaubien the hitter as Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central earned the opportunity to play for a third straight MHSAA championship.

Beaubien allowed just two hits and struck out 15 Shepherd hitters at Secchia Stadium, and also led off the sixth inning with a triple before scoring the game’s lone run as the top-ranked Kestrels escaped the Bluejays and their pitcher Haley Peska 1-0.

Peska, who no-hit No. 4 Millington in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal, allowed only five hits and struck out six in just about matching the state’s most celebrated hurler of the last three seasons.

“We’ve played a lot of really good teams on our way here this year," Beaubien said. "This is a great example of it – Shepherd’s a team that nobody thought would be in the mix at this point, and they just played a great game and almost beat us.

“(But) the experience of being here has helped us mentally and with our confidence.”

Monroe St. Mary (26-3) will next face No. 3 Napoleon in Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. Final.

Maybe not the best news for Michigan State’s softball program – Beaubien will continue her career at University of Michigan – but the St. Mary’s ace has given up four hits total in 33 innings pitched at Secchia over the last three seasons. In fact, Friday’s was the first Semifinal in three seasons that she didn’t throw a no-hitter.

Not that giving up two hits made her any less dominating. That was made plain both in the sound the ball made pounding catcher Kenna Garst’s glove on her many fastballs, but also when she ended the game with a strikeout on a floating change-up that no one in East Lansing was expecting.

She’ll finish her high school career with an ERA well south of a run per game and passed 1,300 career strikeouts a while ago.

“This whole run was like, ‘OK, any game could be your last game.’ I know that,” Beaubien said. “Now I know for sure. Tomorrow is my last game. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. It’s a little weird. I just want to go out there and make my last game of my career end with another state championship.”

The combination of two superb pitching performances made this one fly by in a mere 77 minutes. Freshman rightfielder Samantha Michael did have two hits in two at bats for St. Mary, with junior shortstop Kelsey Barron doubling in that lone run and junior third baseman Danielle Michael notching the team’s other hit.

Senior centerfielder Ryanne McKenna and junior shortstop Kianna Andrews had the hits for Shepherd (25-19), and of course Peska made the most memorable impact for a Bluejays team playing in its first Semifinal since 1997.

“They’ve got two coaches over there (Bobb Servoss and assistant Terry Lynch) that know a lot about the game … and in this game it’s all about keeping hitters off-balance,” St. Mary coach John Morningstar said. “You’re never letting anyone sit on something, and if all you’ve got is speed in this game it’s going to be a long season. Kids will catch up to that hard ball. Moving it around the way (Peska) does, she’s very effective. She had us chasing a lot of pitches that we wouldn’t normally swing at.”

Click for the full box score.

Napoleon 16, Gladstone 0

Not that more proof was needed on top of a 36-4 record. But Napoleon’s seniors showed again Friday they’re ready for one last matchup with the St. Mary ace.

As freshman, they were part of a team that downed Beaubien and St. Mary in a Regional Final. But she and the Kestrels came back to eliminate the Pirates in a Quarterfinal in 2015, and Napoleon didn’t make it out of the District a year ago.

“We have been looking ahead, and saying we’re going to end up meeting Meghan, we're going to meet her,” Napoleon senior shortstop Paige Kortz said. “And just talking and scouting, hearing scouting reports. Of course they probably have with us (too), but just going ahead and figuring out what their weaknesses are, and we’re going to try to hit them tomorrow.”

They seemed to hit everything Friday, especially during the first inning. Napoleon jumped out to an 8-0 lead and finished the game with 19 hits over five innings.

Senior outfielder Kallie Pittman was 4 for 4 and scored two runs, while senior second baseman Ashton Jordan was 3 for 4 with two doubles, two runs and four RBI. Senior third baseman Haley Rose also was 3 for 4 and scored three runs, while Kortz, senior centerfielder Dylan Wiley, senior catcher Rachel Griffin and junior designated player Caitlin Pace all had two hits. 

Senior Sydney Coe, in addition to driving in two runs, allowed only three hits in the circle and struck out six Gladstone batters. Senior centerfielder Alyssa Polley, sophomore third baseman Sydney Herioux and junior rightfielder Kaitlyn Hardwick hit safely for the Braves (34-10).

This was the fourth Napoleon team to make Quarterfinals and the first to make Semifinals, meaning of course that Saturday’s championship game also will be a first.

“Especially having eight seniors,” Kortz said, “we at the beginning of this season were determined to be Lansing bound. And determined to make school history.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Monroe St. Mary’s Samantha Michael rounds a base during Friday’s win over Shepherd. (Middle) Napoleon’s Sydney Coe takes a swing during the second Division 3 Semifinal.

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.

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.)