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.”

Click for the full box score.

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 softballEvart 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.

Click for the full box score.

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.

Game May Change, But Success Continues as Wilson Nears 800 Coaching Wins

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

April 16, 2024

SOUTH HAVEN — No dugouts, no outfield fences, $25 bats.

Southwest CorridorThings have come a long way since Wilma Wilson took over the coaching reins at her alma mater 35 years ago.

“When I played, we didn’t have fences, we didn’t have dugouts; we had benches,” the South Haven softball coach said. “If you hit a home run, it had to be an in-the-park home run because there were hardly any parks that had any fences.

“It’s come a long way. Now you go to fields that are turfed. I love it. I’m glad to see the change for the girls and to see more emphasis on them playing and being involved.”

With a 791-406 record over her 35 years coaching the Rams softball team, Wilson is closing in on 800 career wins. Her current record puts her 19th among MHSAA coaches and just 16 victories behind former Monroe coach Vince Rossi’s 807 victories.

The Rams are 2-2 on the young season, but started off with a bang — actually three bangs over the right field fence in a one-run squeaker against Paw Paw on March 26.

Although the team has just 11 players, it is stacked with experience. Nine players saw action last season, and the five seniors have three or four years of varsity time.

Those seniors include twins Kamryn and Taylor Holland.

Against Paw Paw, Kamryn hit her first grand slam, a walk-off homer in a 12-11 win.

The Rams enjoy watching Marlee Wilson’s Broncos this season. “I knew it was going to be close as soon as I saw it,” the third baseman said. “I just kept running and started jumping up and down when I saw it go over.”

She was one of the veterans instrumental in the team’s postseason play last year, as South Haven reached its Division 2 District Final before losing 6-2 to Hamilton.

The Rams are focused on a longer run this year.

“A lot of the girls have been on the same team, and we’ve played together the past three years,” Kamryn said. “We know enough about each other and work good together. Everything clicks.”

Her sister, a shortstop/pitcher, agrees she and her teammates already have solid connections and said Wilson is a big reason.

“I love how much she pushes me,” Taylor Holland said. “She’s always there when you need her. She’ll take you aside if you need anything and always wants us to be our best. I just love that about her, because she loves us on and off the field.”

Wilson does more than work on softball with the players.

“(Last week) I sat down with the girls and had a good heart-to-heart, working through frustrations, trying to help kids maneuver through things in life, whether at school, at home, in the game,” she said. 

“That’s a huge part of coaching and what keeps me in it, knowing I can make a difference helping these kids manage life a little bit.”

Continuing the legacy

One of Wilson’s former players who is still very involved in the sport is her daughter, Marlee Wilson, in her first season as Western Michigan University’s head softball coach.

The Broncos won their 20th game of the season Sunday, making Wilson WMU’s winningest first-year softball coach. 

Wilson, right, joins daughter Marlee to form an accomplished mother-daughter coaching tree. “I coached her when she was small, coached her through high school, coached her in travel ball,” Wilma Wilson said. “She’s a very competitive kid, plays really hard. She has that same love for the game that I do, same drive.”

Marlee Wilson said one important thing she learned from her mom was to make softball fun.

“Practices in high school were always really fun,” she remembered. “It was the best part of the day. I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. (I want to) continue that and also develop the student athletes as people.

“There’s not a huge career in softball like there is in baseball and other sports, so you’re going to play four or five years in college then hopefully be prepared for life after sports, which (Mom) did a really good job with me.”

When she has a chance to talk with high school athletes, Marlee Wilson tells them to have fun and learn the basics of the game.

“That’s huge in high school,” she said. “At the college level, we can tell players who went through really good high school programs or travel programs that have those really good fundamentals or softball IQ.

“(Mom) does a really good job of developing players as a whole so when they get to that level, they understand that part of the game.”

Wilson played softball at WMU from 2014-18 and was a three-time academic all-Mid-American Conference honoree, a 2017 MAC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete and a four-time NFCA All-American Scholar.

Sparking like Sparky

Although Wilma Wilson calls him a “co-coach,” Dave Gumpert considers himself her assistant the last 11 years.

“I respect her many years as being a coach,” he said. “We talk things over, but she makes the final decisions.

“It’s been a really good relationship. She bounces things off me, I bounce things off her. It’s been a good run so far.”

Gumpert, who had a seven-year stint as a major league pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals, is the one who good-naturedly calls Wilson “Sparky” and not because of her sparkling personality.

Myraql McGee settles in under a fly ball. “She pretty much lets me run practice, and she walks around,” he said, smiling. “I played for (Tigers manager) Sparky Anderson and that’s what he did. He walked around the outfield, just talking to people and doing all the PR stuff while all the other coaches were getting the work done. So I like to tease her.”

Equipment has been another area of change during Wilson’s tenure.

“The equipment has gone crazy from the technology of bats,” she said. “A bat back in the day would be $20, $25. Now they’re $400. 

“If take my school budget and buy balls for the season for both our (varsity and JV) teams and a bat, I’ve used two-thirds of my budget.”

But South Haven is making those bats work. Senior centerfielder Myraql McGee said hitting is among the team’s most noticeable improvements from a year ago.

“Our whole lineup is good power hitters. It doesn’t matter where you are, our lineup is pretty stacked,” said McGee, who will continue her career next season at Missouri Valley College.

“Fielding-wise, we could work on a couple things, but we don’t make as many errors at routine plays as many other teams.”

Other seniors are Sam Beeney and Kayley Gorham, and juniors are Madi Dotson, Grace Strebeck and Molly Verseput. Sophomores are Addison Dekoning and Erin Bos, and they are joined by freshman Ly’Nique Cunningham.

Gumpert was with Wilson when the Rams reached but lost in the Division 2 Final in 2018 and sees some similarities between that and this year’s team.

“Offensively, we had a good team, but I would dare to say this team is as good offensively as that team was,” he said. “It’s going to boil down to how well our pitching does, how well our pitchers progress. If we have the pitching I think we can develop into, I think we’ll be competitive with anybody.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) South Haven softball coach Wilma Wilson, right, welcomes home Kamryn Holland after Holland’s grand slam March 26. (2) The Rams enjoy watching Marlee Wilson’s Western Michigan Broncos this season. (2) Wilson, right, joins daughter Marlee to form an accomplished mother-daughter coaching tree. (4) South Haven senior Myraql McGee settles in under a fly ball. (Top and WMU photos provided by Wilma Wilson, family photo by Pam Shebest, and McGee action photo provided by McGee.)