Down to Last Out, Ida Rallies to Win D2

June 17, 2017

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – It took coach Howard Stuart 38 years to lead the Richmond High School girls softball team to an MHSAA Finals title.

He was one out away from getting his second against Ida.

The Blue Devils led 3-0 going into the seventh inning of the Division 2 championship game at Michigan State’s Secchia Stadium.

But three runs in the seventh stunned the defending Division 2 champs, and Ida used a four-run ninth inning to take away the title with an 8-4 win.

“That was pretty fantastic to be a part of it,’’ said Bluestreaks coach Dawn Forter, who finished her 14th season. “It has been fantastic to be a part of this since March 12. We had a feeling this group could do this for a long time. They worked together better than any group I’ve seen before. I told them to keep fighting. We’ve been down a lot during the season, and they don’t quit.’’

Ida’s Karlee Lambert led off the ninth inning with a single. She was sacrificed to second and Brooklyn Woelmer, who tied the game with a double in the seventh, singled and Sydney Janssen walked to load the bases.

Taylor Wegener hit a sacrifice fly to score the go-ahead run and Mallorie Duvall, Ashlyn Brososky and Whitney Wegener all hit run-scoring singles to pound the Blue Devils (33-5).

But only a late surge gave Ida (37-7) that extra-inning opportunity to win its first title since 1994.

To start the seventh Whitney Wegener scored on a fielder’s choice play to make it 3-1. With two out and a runner on, Woelmer hit a sinking line drive that got under the glove of the rightfielder and bounded to the wall. Racing around the bases, Woelmer was given a run-scoring double and scored on the two-base error to knot the score at 3-3.

“My coach said just get another hit,’’ said Woelmer. “I couldn’t say I was going to hit it out. Just trying to come through. Thank God. We just kept saying we’re not done yet. Our coach kept saying, why not us? And we agreed. I started bawling after we tied it up. There was hope.’’

In the top of the eighth, Taylor Wegener led off with a single, moved around the bases on a sacrifice and fly out and then scored on a wild pitch. But in the bottom of the eighth, shortstop Carley Barjaktarovich, who took a shot to the face off a bad hop earlier in the game, tripled with one out and beat a throw home to score on a short sacrifice fly and make it 4-4.

Richmond pitcher Erin Shuboy threw a no-hitter as a freshman in last year’s Division 2 championship game, and this year scattered just six hits going into the seventh inning before the Bluestreaks rallied.

“That’s a shame. We had that thing in the bag,’’ said Stuart. “We make a routine play and we keep the lead. Our defense has been great all year. All we have to do is stop the ball and we still have the lead. They had everything in the world going for them after that. They came in hot. You have to worry about hot teams.’’

Richmond put together the first threat of the game in the second inning when Raechel McKiernan singled and Cameron Barrett walked with two out. Ida pitcher Lauren Kreps got out of the jam when she struck out Kennedy Caperton looking.

The Blue Devils were at it again in the third when Barjaktarovich singled and Shuboy walked. Caperton came through with a run scoring single to make it 1-0 as the runners advanced on the throw. Evelyn Swantek followed with a single to make it 2-0, which was all the cushion Shuboy would usually need.

Richmond received a scare when Barjaktarovich took a shot to the face off a bad hop in the top of the fourth inning, but she stayed in the game. Ida put two runners on in the top of fifth, but Shuboy struck out Karlee Lambert and got Hannah Tuller to bounce out to shortstop.

Ida also put two on in the sixth with two out, but Ashley Teltow speared a line drive off the bat of Ashlyn Brososky to keep the Bluestreaks off the board. Richmond scored a run in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single by Thueme.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ida celebrates its nine-inning Division 2 championship game win Saturday morning. (Middle) An Ida hitter connects just in front of Richmond catcher Evelyn Swantek’s extended glove.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

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.)