By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Over the last two seasons, Indian River Inland Lakes has emerged from its cozy spot tucked 30 miles south of Mackinac Bridge to join the elite of Michigan high school softball.
On Thursday, the top-ranked Bulldogs downed seven-time title winner Kalamazoo Christian in a Division 4 Semifinal to earn another chance at bringing home the school's first MHSAA championship trophy in any sport since 1979.
Returning its entire hitting lineup from last season’s Finals loss to Unionville-Sebewaing, Inland Lakes slugged its way to a 9-0 victory at Secchia Stadium. The Bulldogs will face No. 8 Ottawa Lake Whiteford at 3 p.m. Saturday with that first title on the line – hoping to follow the girls track & field team that won Inland Lakes’ first and only MHSAA championship in 1979.
“It just shows all of the hard work we’ve put in. Our main group has been together eight, nine years,” Bulldogs senior pitcher Cloe Mallory said. “The family we have in our community, it just really shows.
“There’s so many people talking it up. We’ve just got to stay very humble about it. In northern Michigan, it’s hard to get all these great girls all in the same program, the same years. I’ve been very lucky to have this great group of girls with me throughout my high school career.”
And they’ve been fortunate to have her in the circle, especially over the last two.
In two games at Secchia last season, Mallory threw all 14 innings, giving up one run and eight hits while striking out 17. She returned to Michigan State on Thursday with another shutout, striking out nine while giving up only four hits in going the distance.
And Inland Lakes’ bats have been just as punishing. The nine-run performance took the Bulldogs’ overall postseason score to a combined 84-3 against seven playoff opponents.
Five batters had at least two hits Thursday; junior third baseman Madison Milner and junior centerfielder Makayla Henckel hit home runs, and junior leftfielder Sydney DePauw was 3 for 4. Milner, Mallory, senior catcher Pamela Braund and senior shortstop Vanessa Wandrie all had two hits, and Wandrie and Milner both drive in two runs.
Inland Lakes (34-5) jumped out to a 3-0 lead during the top of the first inning and pushed the game further out of reach on Milner’s two-run homer in the fifth.
“That’s the way the girls have been all season. They know they have to jump out early and put the bats to work,” Bulldogs coach Krissi Thompson said. “Like I’ve said all season, my favorite part is watching them hit.”
Kalamazoo Christian was playing in its fourth Semifinal in five seasons and finished 23-18.
Ottawa Lake Whiteford 6, Coleman 1
A proud and successful Whiteford program has been waiting to get back to the MHSAA Finals.
The Bobcats will play in their first title game since 1994, aiming for their first championship since 1987 and fourth overall under 39-season coach Kris Hubbard.
One of only three seniors, centerfielder Erin Manley played a major role in booking that return. Manley drove two home runs – sandwiched, unexpectedly, around a sacrifice bunt – and brought in four runs.
“The past few games haven’t been so good,” Manley said of her hitting, “but my teammates have just been pumping me up. They’re telling me to get a base hit, and that’s what I tried to do.
“Everybody on the team is talking me up, making sure I’m watching (the pitch) all the way through, helping me on the tees and throwing me extra balls in practice, and that’s what really helped.”
Whiteford (33-6) scored three runs in the first inning on Manley’s first homer. After Coleman came back with a run in the second, Whiteford sophomore pitcher Lindsey Walker didn’t allow another hit until the seventh inning.
She finished with nine strikeouts, giving up three hits total. Sophomore shortstop Karyn Berns-Moore had two hits including a triple and scored two runs, while sophomore third baseman Baylee Baldwin also had two hits and scored and Walker drove in two runs.
Junior shortstop Autumn Tubbs had hits in both of her at bats and scored the lone run for No. 5 Coleman (35-7), which was making a second straight Semifinal appearance.
The win was quite a follow-up after Whiteford downed reigning champion and No. 2-ranked Unionville-Sebewaing in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal – and after losing to USA in the Quarterfinal a year ago.
“I think it’s our attitude, effort, every single day on and off the field that makes us good,” Manley said. “Last year we didn’t have any seniors; it was six freshmen and three juniors, and that was our team. We knew we had a good team, and we lost in the Quarterfinals. The goal was to get to state championships this year, and that’s what we’ve been working for.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Indian River Inland Lakes greets Madison Milner after her home run Friday. (Middle) Ottawa Lake Whiteford celebrates one of Erin Manley's homers in its Division 4 Semifinal.
Evart was added to the MHSAA softball record book 23 times for achievements during an outstanding three-season run that has included a Division 3 runner-up finish in 2022.
Then-junior Katelyn Gostlin twice was included for hitting streaks, of 26 straight games during the 2022 season and 22 straight this past spring. She also was added for 23 doubles in 2022, and then-senior Addysen Gray was added for 16 doubles in 2023. Ally Theunick was added for 11 home runs this spring and 23 over her first three seasons with one more to play. Gostlin, Theunick and 2021 graduate Ryenn Baumgardner all were added for single-game accomplishments.
Among team record listings, Evart had 405 hits, 419 runs, 85 doubles, 35 home runs and 328 RBI over 39 games this spring. Gostlin has signed with Mid-Michigan College, and Gray is playing softball and basketball there this school year.
See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA softball record book:
Olivia Mikowski followed up her Maple City Glen Lake team’s Division 4 basketball championship in March with a national record this spring on the diamond. She tied the MHSAA and national records with 20 triples, over 35 games, among five record book entries she earned. She also is listed for 74 RBI this past season, while now-junior Jessie Pugh earned a listing with 66 runs scored over 37 games. Mikowski is continuing at Schoolcraft College.
Essexville Garber finished a combined 71-14 over the last two seasons and reached the Division 2 Semifinals in 2022 after winning its first Regional title since 1997, along the way achieving several record book performances for both team and individual lists. The Dukes hit 53 home runs over 41 games this past spring, tying for sixth most as senior Sarah Basket set a program record and made the individual list with 12. Basket also was added for 21 doubles in 2022, with Laney Kokaly making the doubles list that season with 16 and Ella Wagner making it was 16 this past season. Kortney Kotenko set the previous Garber home run record in 2022, making the record book list with 11. All four were seniors in 2023. Kotenko is continuing at Madonna, while Basket is playing at Lawrence Tech and Wagner at Northwood. Kokaly is playing volleyball at Northwood.
Three Rivers and now-senior Ava Forman made the single-season hits list with 75 over 41 games and the single-season doubles list for 22 last spring and also 18 over 40 games as a sophomore. Three Rivers as a team made the records for 423 hits, 101 doubles and 277 RBI over 42 games in 2023.
Armada’s Taylor Capozzo had 19 doubles in 2023 to make that single-season list, plus hit back-to-back home runs in a game against Yale, and Natalie Sauer drove in six runs in a game against Brown City. Capozzo is a sophomore this school year, and Sauer graduated in the spring and is continuing at St. Clair County Community College.
Schoolcraft’s Lauren Evans hit 31 doubles in 2023 as a junior, the second-most in MHSAA history, as the Eagles totaled 118 over 41 games – also the second-most doubles on the team list. Schoolcraft also made record lists for 436 hits and 316 RBI for the season and five home runs in a game against Battle Creek Pennfield (which included back-to-back homers by Evans). Teammate Sydney Drenth, then a sophomore, made the doubles list with 22, and senior Alayna Meade made the same list with 16. Meade is continuing at Cornerstone, and Evans has committed to sign with Saginaw Valley State.
Farmington Hills Mercy finished 29-1 in 2023, earning four record book entries along the way. The Marlins tied for second-fewest runs allowed, giving up only 16. They also made lists for 11 consecutive shutouts, 385 strikeouts and a .435 average and just missed the single-season shutouts list with 23.
Unionville-Sebewaing’s 2022 Division 4 championship season produced another series of record book-worthy accomplishments. As a team, USA set an MHSAA record with 128 doubles over 40 games and was fourth on the team RBI list with 391, while also earning entries with 44 runs scored, 485 hits and 48 home runs. Individually, then-sophomore Gabriella Crumm was added for 80 hits, 21 doubles and 11 home runs, and then-senior Laci Harris was added for 11 home runs as well plus 72 hits, 19 doubles and career totals of 31 home runs, 170 RBI, 170 runs scored and 51 doubles over 123 games despite her sophomore season of 2020 being canceled due to COVID-19. Then-junior Oliva Jubar was added for 18 doubles, and then-sophomore Ella Neumann was added for 17. Harris is continuing her career at Madonna.
Paige Ratliff finished her Battle Creek Lakeview career in the spring with 10 record book entries across a variety of categories. Most notably, she totaled 37 doubles, 30 home runs and a .520 career average over three seasons and 108 games. She’s continuing at Lake Forest College (Ill.).
Hudson then-freshman Taylor Kopin opened her high school career in the spring by scoring 65 runs to make the individual record book. In doing so, she also helped Hudson make the team record book list with 417 runs scored over 39 games.
Haslett’s Payden Whitmore earned her school’s first softball record book entry since 2007 by hitting 12 triples over 38 games in the spring. She’s a junior this school year.
Mancelona has a pair of softball players who reached career lists last season with more to play. Now-senior Ella Jones was added for 20 doubles as a sophomore in 2022 and 19 this spring, and made the career doubles list with 39 and a season to play. Now-junior Ella Schram was added for her 13 triples as a freshman and .650 average this spring, and she’s on the career triples list with 23 and will qualify for the career average list if she keeps hitting at this pace over her next seasons.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart hit the second-most triples in MHSAA history on the way to the Division 4 Semifinals in the spring. The Irish piled up 48 over 43 games, led by freshman Mairin Wheaton, who hit 12 over 42, respectively.
Reed City made the team record lists with 78 doubles and 252 RBI over 39 games in the spring, and a pair of standouts also were added. Morgan Hammond, then a freshman, and then-sophomore Paityn Enos both were added for single-game RBI, plus Enos was added for 72 hits and 20 doubles and Hammond was added for 22 doubles.
Manton now-junior Adriana Sackett earned her first record book listings in the spring. Twice she hit back-to-back home runs in games, and she also was added for 11 homers total over 26 games.
A trio of Ravenna standouts put up a series of record book-caliber totals over the last two seasons, including some of the highest-ranking all time. Emma Gillard graduated in the spring with nine record book entries, including for 85 runs (fourth most) and 13 triples (tied for 20th) this past season, and she made career lists with 200 runs, 27 triples and a .532 average over 111 games and three years. Emma Herremans is just a junior but has 11 record book listings after two seasons including for 25 doubles (11th-most) as a freshman in 2022 and a .652 average and 73 RBI this past spring, and she’s already on career lists for doubles and triples. Kara Postema graduated this spring with six record book entries, including season and career records for times hit by pitch (23 and 49, respectively), and she also made career lists with 36 doubles and 153 RBI over 111 games and three seasons. Gillard is continuing at Ferris State and Postema at Cornerstone.
PHOTO Evart's Riley Brigham connects during her team's Division 3 Final against Millington in 2022.