Flashback 1981: Softball Showcase Makes Ranney Park Home

By Ron Pesch
MHSAA historian

May 28, 2021

After years of grouping the championship games by classification across various diamonds in the state, talks about creating a new format for both the Michigan High School Athletic Association baseball and softball championships began following the 1980 spring tournaments.

Lansing Eastern softball“Baseball and softball coaches have been complaining about spreading the tournament sites throughout the state,” according to an article in the Lansing State Journal. “They feel if football championships can be held at the Silverdome and basketball at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, why not showcase their sports (at a single location).”

“The coaches are certainly in favor of the four-class finals at the same site and were looking into it,” said Vern Norris, executive director of the MHSAA in June 1980. “There are several exceptional sites right now.”

In September, the Association announced that the 1981 Baseball Finals would be held at Central Michigan University’s Alumni Field, and that the Softball Finals would be played at Lansing’s Ranney Park, a sports complex that featured nearly $70,000 in recent renovations. Rain delayed all four championship games, scheduled for Saturday, June 13. Instead, they were played on the following Monday.

Lansing Eastern softball

Class A: Lansing Eastern 8, Warren Cousino 0

Lefty Sally Sohn allowed just three hits as Lansing Eastern shut down once-beaten Warren Cousino, 8-0. It was Sohn’s 17th win on the year without a defeat. Diane Gentry, previously unbeaten in 19 games, took the loss.

Eastern pounded out 13 hits, scoring once in the first inning and twice in the second for a quick 3-0 lead. Leftfielder Sue Spagnuolo, who went 4 for 5 at the plate, piled up a double and three singles in the championship game, drove in one of the runs in the second inning, and then followed with two more RBI in the third. Senior Kelley Keyton, who led the team in batting with a .412 average and six home runs, singled in two more runs in the third. Playing first base, she was one of three sisters, including Lesley Keyton (second) and Michelle Keyton (third), who occupied the infield for the Quakers. Sophomore shortstop Rachel Dexter added three hits and was outstanding defensively. The team’s final run came in the fifth.

Dexter, Lesley Keyton and Gentry would all later become teammates at Michigan State, while Sohn would carve out an outstanding career at Ferris State. Spagnuolo would attend Alma College, earning all-MIAA honors and setting multiple Scots records on the basketball court.

In eight postseason contests, Eastern outscored its opponents 79-9, with the Cousino win marking the only tournament shutout. In 1995, the Quakers’ team was honored with induction into the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame.

Saginaw MacArthur softball

Class B: Saginaw MacArthur 8, Eaton Rapids 4

Saginaw MacArthur’s Liz Alfano held Eaton Rapids to four hits, all coming in the fifth inning, to lead her team to an 8-4 win over the Greyhounds. MacArthur, which lost its 1980 Regional Final to eventual Class B champion Fenton, finished the season with a 20-5 record.

The Generals opened up a 6-0 advantage early in the contest.

After walking in her first at bat, Pam Carpenter scored the game’s opening run on a Greyhounds throwing error in the bottom of the first inning, and then doubled in two runs in the second. A bloop single by Alfano in the third pushed across another run. That was followed by a single by Jenny Scoggin that scored two more runs, giving MacArthur its lead.

Alfano hadn’t allowed a hit through the first four innings before a bad hop on a grounder in the top of the fifth allowed Eaton Rapids to score a run. Trailing 6-1, the Greyhounds filled the bases with nobody out. MacArthur’s second baseman Cindy Devers came up big defensively, turning a double play on a grounder by tagging the runner headed from first to second before making the easy toss to first.  While the runner at third scored, it appeared that “MacArthur might escape without further damage, “ according to Mike Thompson of the Saginaw News.

“However, an infield error allowed a third run to score. Another error, followed by a base hit, produced another run and cut MacArthur’s lead to 6-4.

With “the tying runs in scoring position … Generals Coach Sue Skulley made a trip to the pitching rubber.” Skulley knew Eaton Rapids had a reputation as a strong comeback team, and hoped a little break might help Alfano on this hot, muggy day.

‘“It was nearly 90 degrees out there,’” said Skulley. “’She was tired and she let up a little.’”

Following the mound visit, Alfano got the third out of the inning on a fly to right field.

Devers scored in the fifth and Carpenter scored again after notching a triple in the sixth to seal the victory.

Alfano finished with a 16-3 win-loss mark on the year. Eaton Rapids ended with a 14-9 record as Denise Miller was tagged with the loss.

Vandercook Lake softball

Class C: Vandercook Lake 5, Breckenridge 4

Five walks, two hit batters, and eight errors – including a pair in the ninth inning – helped the Vandercook Lake Jayhawks (14-4) earn a surprise 5-4 win over Breckenridge (18-6).

>Vandercook Lake blew an early 3-1 lead, and with the game tied, 3-3, a lead-off triple by Breckenridge first baseman Brenda Rohn in the top of the seventh appeared to set the stage for a comeback win by the Huskies. “However,” according to Lansing State Journal coverage, “an unsuccessful squeeze play and two pop ups got Jayhawks pitcher Beth Eagle out of the touchy situation.” With Vandercook Lake unable to score in the bottom half, the teams headed for extra innings.

In the top of the ninth, Rohn, who finished 4 for 4 from the plate, notched her third triple of the day, and then scored on a two-out single by Claudia Parfitt to break the tie, 4-3.

But Vandercook Lake scored twice in the bottom of the inning to grab the title.

“Barb Boyt reached first for the Jayhawks on a throwing error then moved to third after a wild pitch and a passed ball,” stated the Jackson Citizen Patriot years later, recalling the drama. “After Breckenridge issued a walk to put the game-winning run on first, Coach Yvonne Freeman put Sherry Gilbert in to pinch run. Boyt scored on another error and Gilbert moved to second. With two outs, Paula May hit a groundball to third base and Gilbert slid under the tag for a 5-4 win.”

Freeman had only four players turn out for varsity tryouts that spring, and junked the JV squad to compile a team.

Breckenridge’s Evelyn O’Boyle, who allowed two hits on the day, was unbeaten entering the match-up and took the loss.

Portland St. Patrick softball

Class D: Portland St. Patrick 3, Wyoming Lee 2

Portland St. Patrick opened up an early 3-0 lead, then held on for a 3-2 win over Wyoming Lee before a crowd of 500. It was the Shamrocks’ 26th win on the year against two losses.

“We’ve played well all year,” St. Patrick coach Dick Willemin told the Journal correspondent Steven Waite following the game. “We got super play out of our infield today. But I’ve said all along we’d go as far as (pitcher) Jane (Rogers) took us.”

Sophomore Karen Kramer opened the St. Patrick scoring in the bottom of the first inning. In the second, Carmen Simon “walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Laurie Hoppes’ single to center,” according to the Journal’s account of the game. “(Freshman Laurie) Leik was safe on a fielder’s choice, stole second, and took third on a passed ball. She scored on catcher Doreen Schrauben’s ground out.”

Lee (21-8) rallied back in the fourth, as Tammi Melinn doubled, moved to third on a Cassie McCann single, then scored on a single by Cheryl DeLaat. McCann, who had advanced to third on DeLaat’s hit, scored “on an ensuing ‘pickle play’” as DeLaat was thrown out attempting to steal second. “Rogers got St. Patrick out of further trouble by forcing the next two batters to pop out.”

Rogers’ strong pitching combined with solid defense sealed the victory. Just a junior, Rogers allowed four hits and fanned five to end the year with a 21-2 mark. She struck out more than 100 during the season and established Shamrocks records for strikeouts in a game, season, and career, as well as wins in a season with 21 against two defeats.

A special thanks to Saginaw’s Jeffrey Cottrell at the Castle Museum and Stacy McNally at the Hoyt Library for their assistance in gathering reference materials.

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 [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: The 1981 Portland St. Patrick softball team celebrates 40 years since its championship season during a May 20 reunion. Back row: Coach Tom Russman, Michelle (Simon) Nakfoor, Laurie (Leik) Kinne, Karen (Kramer) Trierweiler, Julie (Schrauben) May, Coach Ralph Willemin, Carmen (Simon) Stiffler, Jane (Rogers) Wheaton, Rhonda (Lehman) Goodrich. Front row: Joyce (Gensterblum) Werner, Sherri (Fox) Gensterblum, Kaye (Schrauben) Sandborn, Brenda (Schrauben) Smith. Missing: Maureen (Eddy) Devota, Renee (Vallier) Haneghan, Lisa (Cook) Barrone, Barb (Manning) Renterghem, Lori (Kissane) Rademacher, Doreen (Schrauben) Spohn, Head Coach Dick Willemin (deceased). (2) Lansing Eastern's Kelley Keyton celebrates following the final out of the Class A championship game in 1981. (3-6) Team photos from the 1981 champions. (Photos collected by Ron Pesch.)  

Bedford Sophomore Powers Up with 23 Homers, Just Getting Started

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

June 7, 2023

TEMPERANCE – Here’s a warning for softball teams facing Temperance Bedford the next couple of seasons: Intentionally walking Aubrey Hensley only gives her more confidence.

Southeast & BorderThe Kicking Mules sophomore just finished her season with 23 home runs in 39 games, shattering school and Monroe County records. She remembers the home runs from the season that ended in the Division 1 District Finals, but she also remembers the walks.

“Our first game of the season, my first at-bat, I didn’t even get a swing in,” Hensley said. “As a hitter, it plays with your mind, but it also gives you confidence. If I go to the plate and they aren’t even willing to pitch to me, that gives me even more confidence. The next time up, I’m really going to look for my pitch.”

Hensley saw plenty of pitches she liked this season. She hit just a tick below .500 (61 hits in 124 at-bats), with seven doubles, five triples and nearly two dozen homers. They were pretty much split between the newly renovated Kicking Mules field in Temperance and road games.

Her most memorable home run was at Ypsilanti Lincoln.

“I usually have pretty good games at their field,” she said. “This year I hit a home run and hit the building which is behind the fence. That was a good one. I liked that watching and hearing that one hit.”

Hensley grew up in Toledo and moved across the state line in fifth grade. By then she was already involved in northwest Ohio travel softball programs.

“Softball kind of came naturally for me,” she said. “I loved to go to the field with my mom (Amanda) or my brother or just hit off the tee. I just have a mentality that I’m a good hitter and I can do whatever I put my mind to.”

Prior to her freshman season, Mules coach Marla Gooding, a first-grade teacher at Bedford, sent Hensley into the weight room. 

“I was not expecting to hit home runs going into my freshman season,” Hensley said. “I didn’t really know what to expect.

“When I was little, I wasn’t always a power hitter. I would hit a few doubles or triples and get into the ball some. I worked and put in time in the weight room, especially going into the freshman year. I think that really contributed to my home run hitting. Coach had us in the weight room during the season a little bit. It helps to develop your body to be a power hitter.”

Hensley steps to the plate against Monroe. With the power in place, Hensley began concentrating on swinging through the ball.

“I don’t expect to hit a home run every time, but I go up to the plate thinking it’s possible,” she said. “I’m swinging to get through the ball and just drive it somewhere. I’m not hitting for contact. If you just go up hitting for contact, you are swinging lighter, and if it doesn’t go far, you start doubting yourself. I just go up and swing to drive the ball.”

Countless hours hitting off the tee and facing batting practice pitchers helped her fine-tune her swing. 

“I don’t like to get down on myself, because then it snowballs onto the field or another at-bat,” she said. “Short memory is one thing we really wanted to work on this year. I think I applied that more. It’s difficult sometimes if you aren’t getting the pitches that you want or aren’t producing. I just try to go up there with some swag and get the job done.”

Gooding called her a dream to coach.

“She’s a power-five softball player,” she said. “And the greatest kid ever. Seriously, a workhorse and team-first mentality.”

On the field, she is the Bedford catcher. She didn’t commit an error all season.

Hensley was a pitcher at a young age but loved the transition to behind the plate.

“When I got behind the plate, I loved it,” she said. “It’s like being a general out there controlling the whole field. I get to see everyone and everything. I put in a lot of work when I was little. I started with the basics and just advanced from there. I’m pretty dedicated to being the best I can behind the plate for my pitcher.”

Hensley will balance her summer of babysitting, playing basketball for the Mules in June and a busy summer travel softball season that will take her around Ohio, Kansas and Tennessee. She helped the Kicking Mules set a school record for wins with 23 and win a District title in basketball last winter.

Hensley isn’t the only Bedford softball player to show power this season. As a team, Bedford hit 51 home runs, including 12 by teammate Payton Pudlowski. That is one of the reasons Hensley isn’t simply intentionally walked time after time.

“We have some solid pieces behind her, and the two girls in front of her got on base all of the time,” Gooding said. “It was hard for other teams to do that.”

With 23 home runs this season, Hensley’s put her name among the top five all-time single seasons in state history. The record is 29 by Kali Heivilin from Three Rivers in 2021.

With 34 career home runs, she is almost in the top 25. 

Hensley isn’t concerned about records right now, except for one thing. She wants to put up a number that, by the time she graduates, is out of this world.

As she tells it, “I want to push the record so far that no one can touch it by the time I’m done with my career at Bedford.”

She might already have.

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Bedford’s Aubrey Hensley prepares to drive a pitch this season. (Middle) Hensley steps to the plate against Monroe. (Photos by Christine Kwiatkowski.)