Evart Overcomes Early Deficit, Millington Comes Back Late to Set Up D3 Finale
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com
June 17, 2022
EAST LANSING – Its hopes of playing for another state championship were dwindling as the Millington softball team was down to its last strike in Friday morning’s first Division 3 Semifinal.
However, two big swings changed the Cardinals’ fate and paved the way to an improbable finish.
Top-ranked Millington rallied with three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to pull out a dramatic 4-3 win over Algonac at Secchia Stadium.
Senior Leah Coleman’s two-out double scored Ashley Ziel for the game-winning run to stun the Muskrats.
“I knew we could come through,” Coleman said. “We’re a family, we play for each other and I knew when Ashley got on base that I could score her in that position.”
Ziel, a senior pitcher who struck out eight, tied the game with two outs and with her team trailing 3-1. She drilled a 0-2 pitch to the wall to score Shannon Ziel and Emma Dickie.
“We always train to be in these situations, and you never know when you are going to be in it,” Ziel said. “I just thought that I had to get on base, I have to win this for my team.
“I saw that pitch coming and I just took a swing at it, and I saw it go to the fence and I thought, we’re tied. I knew Leah was going to pull through, and I knew right when we scored that we were going to win that game.”
Millington (35-3) will face Evart in Saturday’s 3 p.m. Division 3 Final.
The Wildcats defeated Grandville Calvin Christian 6-1 in the other Semifinal and will seek their first Finals title.
Millington won Division 3 in 2019 and was runner-up in 2018.
Algonac (33-4) took the early lead when junior slugger Ella Stephenson homered to left center in the top of the first inning. It was her 17th of the season.
The Muskrats increased their lead in the top of the sixth. Sierra Vosler opened the inning with a triple and then scored on Brianna Thomason’s infield single to make it 2-0.
Millington’s Trinity Fessler delivered a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the inning to trim the Algonac lead in half.
Stephenson, who went 3-for-4, singled in the seventh inning, went to second base on a passed ball and then scored when Jaycee Reams ripped a two-out single up the middle to make it 3-1.
Millington coach Greg Hudie said the tight-knit bond of his team was a factor in the come-from-behind win.
“I think it has a lot to do with how close they are as a family,” he said. “They train hard together all year long, and I think that’s what really put it together. Not giving up on each other even though we were down and our backs were against the wall.
“Most teams would probably be starting the bus, but I thought they did a great job and you couldn’t ask for a better finish.”
Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito, a sophomore, struck out 10 and held down a potent offense until the final inning.
The fourth-ranked Muskrats outhit Millington 9-8, but left several runners on base and were unable to get the final out to secure their first trip to the Finals.
“We can’t seem to get the big one,” Algonac coach Len Perkins said. “We had them right where we wanted them, but they hit the ball and made the difference.
“They found holes at the right time, and that’s softball. You have to come up with the big play, and they got the big hits. We had our chances, but didn’t get hits in those situations. They did, and you have to give them credit.”
Evart 6, Grandville Calvin Christian 1
One big inning helped propel Evart to its first Finals appearance.
The unranked Wildcats (32-8-1) overcame an early deficit to score five runs in the second inning.
Evart banged out eight hits, including six in a row, in the inning and took advantage of two Calvin Christian errors to gain control.
“It was probably the best inning we’ve had the whole season,” sophomore catcher Ally Theunick said. “It was awesome. We were all energized, and we were getting hits all over. It didn’t stop.”
Evart coach Amanda Brown said her team has had previous stints of timely hitting. Four of the five runs came with two outs.
“We found the fire, and it worked out beautifully,” she said. “We’ve had two other games like that where we had two outs and we scored six or seven runs like that, and it's just fun. No one wants to be the last out.
“The hitting is definitely contagious with any of these girls, and once something gets going they just run with it and they feed off it. Our dugout was amazing, and they did a great job.”
Evart tacked on another run in the fourth inning. Kylynn Thompson smacked a double to score Theunick.
The Wildcats’ defense shined once again and allowed only one run for the seventh straight postseason game.
“Our defense has been phenomenal,” Brown said. “They work their tails off, and we do so many fundamentals. We tell them all the time that fundamentals will win or lose games. Make the play when it’s presented, and make the best of it.”
Calvin Christian went ahead 1-0 in the first inning when Emili Goodheart singled home Anna Voet. It was the only run the Squires would muster against junior pitcher Addysen Gray, who struck out eight and walked one.
“It feels great to know we are playing for a state championship, and to have our whole school here feels so good,” said Gray, who also went 3-for-4 at the plate.
The Wildcats finished with 12 hits as Skyler Baumgardner, Brooklyn Decker and Thompson had two hits each. The Squires, who finished 34-4, had only four hits and were plagued by five errors.
PHOTOS (Top) Millington players and fans celebrate during Friday’s first Division 3 Semifinal at Secchia Stadium. (Middle) Evart’s Katelyn Gostlin enjoys the moment on the way to first base during her team’s Semifinal win.
Schools Come Together to Help Coleman Trio Complete Dream Weekend
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
June 8, 2023
After teaming up to win a softball District title and an all-state track medal over a two-day stretch, Coleman juniors Madison Miller, Nevaeh Chaffee and Ava Gross had earned some time to relax.
“I was definitely relieved,” Chaffee said. “It felt good to be leaving the track meet with a medal, regardless of what place it was. But I definitely came home and took a fat nap.”
The trio was instrumental in leading the Comets to a Division 4 District softball title Friday, as they knocked off Farwell and Beal City.
A day later, they joined senior teammate Amber Nehrig to take fifth in the 400-meter relay at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Track & Field Finals in Hudsonville.
‘It was fun just to be able to do both,” Gross said. “We worked so hard to play in both.”
All that hard work was almost for naught, and not because of anything any of the athletes had done. It took a lot of work behind the scenes from participating athletic departments and school districts to move the District softball tournament. And that wasn’t confirmed until eight days before it was played.
The tournament was originally scheduled for Saturday, and Coleman softball coach Chad Kopf had alerted his athletic director early that he would like it to be moved to avoid a conflict with the track Finals.
However, host Beal City had to work through multiple issues to make it work. Friday was the final day of exam prep for Beal City students, so administrators did not want to have them miss any of the school day. It was also field day for the elementary school, which was going to make parking at the school even more chaotic. On top of that, Beal City softball coach Jason Johnston is the elementary principal, meaning he would have to be present at the field day.
Athletic directors and superintendents were all involved to make it work, and eventually, a compromise was found. Coleman had offered to bus in all its fans to cut down on parking, and to swap the order of games, so Beal City and Marion – which also had a Finals-bound track athlete – could play the later game.
It all added up to Miller, Chaffee and Gross – Coleman’s 1, 2 and 3 hitters, as well as its pitcher, shortstop and centerfielder – not having to choose between major events.
“It makes you feel good,” Kopf said. “Coming off of COVID a couple years ago, you’re still in that mindset of, ‘Is everything that’s done right for the kids?’ (The collaborative effort to move the District) made it feel like we’re in it for the right reasons. Knowing that they made these exceptions, almost solely for us, that’s a lot of selflessness on the part of Beal City. It was great sportsmanship.”
The effort that went into moving the District wasn’t lost on the athletes, either.
“I was happy to know that people were actually trying to get us to do both, because obviously it’s an amazing experience,” Gross said. “Knowing they were putting in the work, that was really nice and thoughtful of them.”
There was, unfortunately, one more bump in the road – getting Gross and Chaffee healthy enough to compete.
Right before the decision to move the District was made, and just 10 days before it was contested, Chaffee took a thrown ball off the kneecap. A day later, Gross injured her ankle and foot long jumping. Neither was cleared until the day before the District tournament.
“We’ve been nursing injuries, nursing arms for about the last month,” said Kopf, who has just 11 players on his roster. “Once we knew we were out of the conference race, we had to save some bodies and be smart with how we practiced. Coming into Thursday, we were still waiting to hear if Nevaeh and Ava were going to be able to play. Both got cleared Thursday, and when (we) got on the bus Friday, that was probably the most focused group I’ve seen.”
Miller pitched a pair of complete games for the Comets in the District, getting a shutout against Farwell and striking out a total of 17 batters over the two games. She also had five hits. Gross had four hits on the day.
“It was very, very special,” Miller said. “Going into it, I wasn’t able to pitch more than one game. My arm had kind of let go, and I didn’t have anything left. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get us to where we needed to be. In the past couple years, I’ve noticed I throw a lot better in the heat, and we hadn’t really had many hot-weather games.”
The next day, the trio was on the track in Hudsonville. In addition to their relay, Miller competed in the long jump and the pole vault, while Chafee ran the 100 meters. She had qualified for the 200, but scratched to save herself for the relay.
They teamed with Nehrig to run a season-best time of 52.62 seconds in the second-to-last heat. They had to watch the final heat to see if they’d place.
“That heat was insane,” Miller said. “It was very insane. They had live timing and live results, so as soon as that heat was done we knew. It was almost immediate.”
Now, the girls can focus solely on softball as the Comets prepare for a Regional Semifinal on Saturday against Alcona at Carson City-Crystal.
But they hope that this weekend’s experience wasn’t once-in-a-lifetime, and they can repeat it a year from now. Without all the nervous moments beforehand, of course.
“I look forward to it, actually,” Chaffee said.
Paul 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) From left, Coleman’s Nevaeh Chaffee, Madison Miller and Ava Gross show their team’s District softball trophy won Friday at Beal City. (Middle) From left, Chaffee, Gross, Amber Nehrig and Miller take a relay photo together Saturday at the LP Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville’s Baldwin Middle School. (Photos courtesy of the Coleman athletic department.)