D4 Semis: 2013 Foes Set to Meet Again

June 13, 2014

By Kelsey Pence
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Rebekah VanDam knows opponents are aiming for Kalamazoo Christian.

The senior pitcher let everyone know that wasn’t going to scare her team Friday afternoon as the Comets booked their second straight trip to the MHSAA Division 4 Final with a 6-1 win over Vestaburg (27-9) at Secchia Stadium at Michigan State University.

“Everyone is out to get us, but we are here,” VanDam said after Kalamazoo Christian's Semifinal win. “We are ready to play and beat whoever we got.”

VanDam gave up just four hits, striking out 12, walking one and giving up just one run, the first run of the postseason for the defending champs.

The Comets (28-16) – who will face Rogers City in Saturday’s championship game – scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning on two Vestaburg errors, but added to that significantly in the third inning.

Morgan Locker singled to start the rally, and Tori Sides helped the cause with a hit to left-center. The Wolverines got the first out on a fielder’s choice by Kara Gjeltema. But VanDam followed up with a fielder’s choice that moved the runners ahead; Locker was able to avoid the tag at home plate to make the score 3-0.

Two batters later McKena Razenberg ran out an infield single, bringing up freshman Aliyah Lemmer with the bases full. She just missed a grand slam, smacking a three-run double to left field that put Kalamazoo Christian up 6-0.

“It never happens for me. I was so excited,” Lemmer said. “I just wanted to help my team and make a difference.

“It was really important for us to get some momentum,” she added. “Everyone was nervous we would get down, but we all really knew we could do it, and everyone was just pumping each other up. Our team gets pumped up easily, and that’s what I love about them.”

Karigan Gates was about a quarter inch from a home run for Vestaburg, smacking one to left -enter field in the top of the fourth that bounced off the fence and back in to fair territory. Akisha Benavidez brought Gates home with a single to center field that made the score 6-1.

Both teams were blanked the rest of the way.

“It was timely hitting, but they did give us some errors out there that gave us some base runners,” Kalamazoo coach Terry Reynolds said. “We got a couple nice hits. That’s what we do. It seems if we get a key hit, it seems we get them in clusters. I thought today it would be one at a time and we were prepared for a small game, but it was good we were able to capitalize.”

The Comets have seven MHSAA softball titles and two runner-up finishes. Reynolds is hoping to add another in his first year as coach.

“Taking over there is a little bit of pressure,” Reynolds said with a laugh. “Everyone expects me to win. The girls have come back and worked hard. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Reynolds also talked about his senior pitcher.

“Rebekah has really worked hard this year,” he said. “She has changed physically and mentally. Her and I seem to be on the same page quite a bit. She has four pitches that work, and we used every one of them today. She pitched a heck of a game.”

Gates had two hits for the Wolverines (27-9) and scored their lone run.

“Everybody really wanted this,” Vestaburg coach Dan Rons said. “I love this because it really brings the community together. Mostly I am proud of how they didn’t turn on each other when someone made a mistake.

“I got a little rough on them in the fourth inning because I didn’t feel like we were playing good ball. But my team, after I had chewed everybody out, they went around and said don’t worry about it. I liked the way they came together and took care of each other.”

Click for the full box score.

Rogers City 11, Fowler 1

Regular-season redemption isn’t enough for Morgan Hall.

Kalamazoo Christian beat Rogers City 2-0 in the Division 4 Semifinals last year, and the Hurons avenged that loss earlier this spring with an 8-4 win over the Comets in a tournament.

But there’s still a bittersweet taste in Hall’s mouth.

Rogers City (33-6) is one game away from an MHSAA title after beating Fowler 11-1 in five quick innings Friday.

“Everybody kind of wants redemption,” Hall said of Kalamazoo Christian. “It was nice beating them the first time, but this is the spot that we want to beat them, in Finals again. As long as we keep our heads on and make the plays, I think we can do it.”

The Eagles (26-7) and Hurons were tied 1-1 after two and a half innings, but Rogers opened the lead in the bottom of the third and fourth innings scoring five runs in each.

Cassie Brege singled to get things started in the third and Logan Fleming was hit by pitch. Courtney Streich loaded the bases with a bunt, and Sarah Meredith smacked a two-run single to left field to make it 3-1.

Morgan Hall was up next and brought another teammate home with a single. Rachel Chojancki walked to score another, and Brege’s fielder’s choice made it 6-1.

“We actually didn’t know anything about Fowler,” Hall said. “They were the underdogs coming in unranked, we didn’t know any of their stats or anything. Nobody knew what to expect. When we got here our coach did a little bit of digging around, but we just came out and played our game and thankfully did as well as we did.”

The Hurons put up five more runs in the fourth inning and held the Eagles scoreless in the top of the fifth to make it a short day.

Hall finished 3 for 3 with three RBI and two runs scored, while Brege and Meredith also added two hits each. Brege added three RBI and a run scored and Meredith scored two runs and tallied two RBI.

Kayla Schafer and Brianna Schmitt each had two hits for Fowler.

“This is surreal right now,” Hall said. “Since freshman year this has always been the dream. We’ve been so close especially these last three years. Last year we just fell short in our first game. The worst that we can be is second place, and that is just surreal. Everyone is thrilled with that.”

Click for the full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Christian catcher Kara Gjeltema fires a throw during her team’s Semifinal win Friday. (Middle) Rogers City’s Kayla Fleury (3) and Courtney Streich (9) celebrate Saturday during their win over Fowler.

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.)