By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Everything about Thursday afternoon should have been at least a little intimidating for Caledonia and pitcher Samantha Gehrls.
The Fighting Scots were playing in their first MHSAA Semifinal. They were facing a Farmington Hills Mercy team that had hit 27 home runs.
Did you know Gehrls is only a freshman?
Could’ve fooled everyone at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium. Gehrls threw pitches that showed she was downright fearless, holding the Marlins’ big bats at bay in leading Caledonia to a 5-2 win and its first appearance in an MHSAA softball championship game.
The Scots will take on Warren Regina at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I went in with the mentality that we’re here right now. The farther you get in the tournament, the better the hitters are going to be,” said Gehrls, who struck out eight and walked one. “I just have to face the fact and know that I can’t be intimidated because my team needs me. Obviously, it’s definitely in back of my head, ‘I can’t hang this over the plate.’ (I was) just trying to stay concentrated on each and every pitch.”
Mercy did get nine hits as both teams drove balls all over the park. Marlins sophomore Nicole Belans hit a home run that stayed inside the fence; Caledonia senior McKenzie Butgereit drove her homer over it and also had a double as her team tallied nine hits as well.
Butgereit scored the first run of the game off that double in the second inning, when senior Danielle Oracz doubled her home. Caledonia (34-4) scored two more runs in the fifth inning when senior Ashley Miller tripled in a run and then scored on an error, and then one more each in the sixth and seventh – on Butgereit’s home run and then Miller singling and scoring, respectively.
That set the most daunting scene Gehrls would face all day.
Mercy (27-4) had gotten its two runs on Belans’ drive in the sixth inning, and the score stood 5-2 with Caledonia needing three outs to advance. Gehrls struck out the first of the seventh inning, but Marlins senior Alex Sobczak and sophomore Sophia VanAcker followed with singles. The tying run came to the plate – junior Abby Krzywiecki, she of a .594 average, 12 home runs and 56 RBI this spring heading into the week.
“I’m thinking ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get this girl out.’ I don’t even really know,” Gehrls said of the thoughts spinning through her mind at that moment. “I focused on every single pitch. … And I knew that once we get this batter, we’ve got to focus on the next. If we get this girl, we’re one step closer to getting that win.”
The titanic matchup could be repeated on this field a year from now. But round one went to Gehrls, who kept the ball on the outside of the plate to draw a fly out to third base. The next batter flew out to second base to end the game.
“She’s well beyond her years as a freshman,” Caledonia coach Tom Kaechele said of Gehrls. “She’s strong. She lives in the weight room. She’s just a great basketball player. She’s just a great athlete, and I’m fortunate to have her on my team.
“Her older sister (Alexa) went on to play at Saginaw Valley (State University), and she leans on her too. But I think one of the neatest things is my junior pitcher who is out in centerfield has been a great mentor to her. Taylor (VanZytveld) has pitched in some big games. … Sami asks her for advice all the time. There’s no competition, no jealousy, nothing like that, and that is so huge on a team when you have two kids, an older one and a younger one, that depend on each other.”
Miller, Butgereit, Oracz and junior Lexi Lieske all had multiple hits for Caledonia. Belans, Sobczak and VanAcker did the same for Mercy.
Warren Regina 7, Mattawan 1
Regina’s players chanted, “We’re still hungry,” after leaving the field at Secchia Stadium. They have room left for one more highlight from a season quickly filling up with them after an empty start.
The Saddlelites will play for an MHSAA title for the first time since 2007, and despite opening this season 3-11.
Regina unloaded seven runs during the fifth and sixth innings to stay alive for one more game after Mattawan scored its only run in the fourth inning.
The Saddlelites had 12 hits – with nine came over the final three innings.
“We’ve been really working on our bunts and working on the little things, because in the beginning we weren’t doing the little things, which really is helping us now,” said Regina senior Riley Hison, who singled in the go-ahead run. “We’ve been working on our hitting too. We’ve been doing a lot more drills and more fundamentals than what we usually do.”
Hison had two hits and three RBI total, and seniors Gina Munson, Marissa Tiano and junior Kristina Carlson all also had two hits apiece.
Tiano was near-flawless from the pitching circle, giving up only four hits without walking a batter. Junior Amber Mazahem had one of those hits for Mattawan (30-13) and drove in the lone run.
Regina moved to 26-16, with 11 wins over its last 14 games.
“We might as well win states now,” Hison said. “We’ve come this far.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Caledonia's Samantha Gehrls unwinds toward the plate during her team's Division 1 Semifinal win Thursday. (Middle) A Regina hitter connects for one of the team's 12 hits.
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023