Flashback 1979: Detroit Dominates Diamonds

June 4, 2019

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

The MHSAA Baseball and Softball Finals will join girls soccer’s championship games in concluding the 2018-19 school year next weekend, June 13-15, at Michigan State University.

Forty years ago, baseball was concluding its ninth season with MHSAA playoffs, while softball was completing its fifth. The metro Detroit area emerged with six of the eight championships awarded, with the Detroit Catholic League earning four of those six titles as games were played at eight sites around the state.

Here’s a flashback to those 1979 championship rounds:


Among the tournament surprises was the defeat of Birmingham Brother Rice (23-3), winner of the Detroit Catholic League title and favorite to win Class A. Rice blew a 3-0 lead and fell to Flint Carmen 5-3 in a Regional Semifinal.  At the time, winners of Regionals immediately advanced to the MHSAA Semifinal round.

Twice beaten by Brother Rice during the regular season and runner-up to the Catholic League crown, Detroit Catholic Central posted wins over Center Line and then St. Clair Shores Lake Shore in Regional play to advance to the final round. A 7-4 victory over Adrian in the Semifinal meant the Shamrocks filled one side of the title-game bracket.

On the other side, Port Huron Northern cut down Flint Carmen, 4-2, in the Regional Final, then slipped past East Kentwood on a game-saving catch by future Oakland A’s prospect Tony Moncrief. Trailing 2-1, East Kentwood loaded the bases in the seventh inning with only one out.  A bunt, fielded by Northern pitcher Steve Campau and relayed to catcher Scott MacReady, forced the second out of the inning. After two quick strikes by Campau, Kentwood’s Jeff Bartoszek laced a shot to left-center, but Moncrief brought the crowd to their feet with a last-second diving catch to retire the side, and the Huskies advanced to the championship contest.

In the Final, DCC scored single runs in both the first and third innings off starter MacReady, then added two runs in both the fifth and sixth innings off reliever Norm Fretenborough for a 6-1 lead. Junior Chris Sabo, a future National League Rookie of the Year and three-time all-star with the Cincinnati Reds, had a triple and two singles and drove in a pair of runs for the Shamrocks. A seventh inning rally by Northern loaded the bases with nobody out. The Huskies scored three runs to pull within two, 6-4, before running out of steam. 

Craig Herberholz, a late-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals, entered the game for Catholic Central in the fourth inning after starter Jeff Evans was struck in the leg by a line drive. Herberholz earned the win, finishing the year with a 9-3 mark. The final round games were played at Battle Creek’s Bailey Park.

Southgate Aquinas’ all-state southpaw, Paul Assenmacher, allowed three hits and struck out nine as Aquinas grabbed a 5-1 victory over South Haven in Class B, hosted at Pontiac Northern High School. Runner-up in 1978, Aquinas ended the year 25-11. South Haven committed an uncharacteristic seven errors during the game, but the biggest blow came in the third inning when starting pitcher Paul Dulik was hit by a line drive just below the knee. A bruised shin meant he was done for the day. With the game scoreless through four innings, Aquinas scored three times in the fifth and twice in the sixth, while South Haven scored its lone run in the sixth.

Assenmacher, who went on to a 14-year MLB career as a relief pitcher, allowed 35 hits and seven earned runs over 86 innings that season, while striking out 113 batters. With the win, he ended the spring with a 10-3 record.

In Class C at Marshall High School, Allen Park Cabrini picked up its first MHSAA Finals baseball title behind the arms of righthander Pat Burns and Steve Nowak. Burns, a senior slinger, won five of the Monarchs’ seven tournament games including an 11-1 two-hit victory in the Semifinal over Lansing Catholic Central. Novak allowed four scattered hits and struck out eight in the title game, a 2-0 win over Clare, before a crowd of 400. The fourth inning provided all the scoring needed as Jerry Jourdan drove home Tim Wylie with a single to left, followed by Chuck White coming home on an error.

It was the third trip to the final rounds for Cabrini and coach Don Oboza. The team posted a 118-47 mark over the previous six seasons, falling in MHSAA Semifinals in 1976 and 1978.

In Class D, Pete Worchester went 3-for-3 in Grosse Pointe University Liggett’s 4-3 win over Frankfort, played at Wyoming. Kevin Wohlfield pitched five innings, while Jack Roberts tossed the final two for the winner.


In Class A at Southfield, coach Gary Bryce’s Royal Oak Dondero squad slipped past Grand Ledge 2-1 in extra innings. With the game scoreless through three, Grand Ledge’s Kelly Lawrence singled to open the fourth inning, then star pitcher Bonni Kinne doubled to left to drive in Lawrence, breaking the deadlock. Dondero’s left fielder Kathie Bell ran down a pair of fly balls, followed by a spectacular diving catch by second baseman Beth Fistler to close out the inning, stranding Kinne.

Fistler got Dondero on the scoreboard in the fifth with a single, stole second then advanced to third on a dropped third strike. She scored on a sacrifice to center by first baseman Mena Reyman, knotting the game at 1-1. Dondero’s Sue Larke reached second on an error in the ninth, then scored on another error for the win. It was the first state title for the Oaks since the fall of 1935 when the school, then known simply as Royal Oak, claimed a state title in football (according to media rankings; MHSAA Football Playoffs weren’t introduced until 1975).

Dondero’s Sandy Taylor dealt a four-hitter, picking up her 25th win against two defeats, and with catcher Diane Ashcraft earned all-state honors.

Bryce, who coached Dondero for five seasons, compiling a 130-36 mark, was named Coach of the Year. He is now in his 38th season as head coach of the softball program at Wayne State University.

In a rematch of the 1978 title game, Fenton repeated as Class B champion, downing South Haven 10-4 in a game played at Ionia High School. Pitcher Barb Barclay upped her season mark to 25-2 with the win. She ended her high school career with a 61-5 record including a 45-game winning streak, four no-hitters, and mention in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.” Dee Ann Moore went 5-for-5 in the contest, scoring four times and garnering five RBI. Pat Witt had a three-run homer for the winners. It was South Haven’s third consecutive runner-up finish. Fenton, under coach Dave Lazar, would pick up its third straight title in 1980.

St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic scored three times in the eighth inning to grab a 7-4 win over Armada to earn the Class C crown, its first MHSAA Finals title in any sport. Catcher Mary Beth Borlik went 3-for-4 in the title game with three RBI. Catholic opened a first-inning 3-0 lead, featuring a triple by Borlik that pushed across two runs. Sophomore Beth Sharai picked up wins in both the semi and final contests, hosted at Clare.

In Class D, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard’s Ellen O’Keefe tossed a two-hitter in the morning’s Semifinal, a 5-0 win over Mason County Eastern, and then held Morenci to four hits in its 4-2 title game win. O’Keefe swatted a three-run homer in the Semifinal, then doubled in a run in the championship game, played at Allendale. O’Keefe ended her college career as the winningest pitcher at Northwestern University, with 41 victories (including 16 shutouts). Today, her total ranks ninth in Wildcats history.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at peschstats@comcast.net with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) Fenton’s Barb Barclay fires a pitch in 1979 for the eventual Class B champion. (Top middle) Southgate Aquinas’ Paul Assenmacher receives a throw at first base. (Middle) Allen Park Cabrini celebrated its first MHSAA title in baseball in its third trip to the final rounds. (Below) St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic softball earned the school’s first MHSAA Finals championship in any sport. (Photos gathered by Ron Pesch.)

Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 4, 2023

Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.

Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.  

She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.

See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:


Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.

Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.

A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.

Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.

Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.

Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.

Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.

Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.

A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.

PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.