Gladwin Slugger Clears Fence at Record Rate
June 2, 2016
By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
GLADWIN — The outfield fence looked so far away, so unreachable whenever Gladwin senior Dayna Fennell stepped to the plate as a youngster.
And it was — back then.
"It was in high school the first time I hit one over," Fennell said. "When I was in Little League, I thought, 'I don't understand how people have the strength to hit one over.' When I hit my first home run, I was very surprised."
Nobody is surprised when Fennell clears the fences these days. In fact, it's almost disappointing for Gladwin players and fans when a game goes by and she doesn't hit a round-tripper.
With her 19th home run of the season last Saturday against Linden in a tournament at Ogemaw Heights, Fennell broke the MHSAA single-season record shared by Pentwater's Melinda Van Gillis (1979), Williamston's Camri Grace (2014) and Romeo's Madison Jones (2015).
The home run hit the top of the fence in left-center field and rolled over.
"I didn't even think it went over," Fennell said. "I just thought it would be a solid double. I thought it bounced inside the fence. Then I heard everyone cheering. I looked at the umpire while he was doing the whole circle motion; it was a home run. I was so ecstatic."
It was also an opportunity to exhale a bit. By hitting one home run in each of the three games of the Ogemaw Heights tournament, Fennell put the record pursuit behind her as Gladwin prepares for the Division 2 District on Saturday at Cadillac.
"It was actually a relief," Fennell said. "Everywhere I went, everyone's asking me how I was doing. It was a little bit of pressure. I'm glad I finally broke it."
The possibility of breaking the record became a hot topic in Gladwin when Fennell hit eight home runs in her first eight games. Before spring actually felt like spring, she eclipsed the school record of six that she set last year.
"I think I had 11 or so and thought there was no way I could hit eight more," she said. "Everyone was like, 'You've only got eight more.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I probably won't get it.' I never thought I was going to come close to it."
Fennell has tied or broken the school record in all four of her seasons with the Flying G's, equaling the modest former standard of three as a freshman and bumping it to four as a sophomore. With 32 career homers, she is tied for 10th on that MHSAA all-time list.
"My parents live 30 minutes away," Gladwin coach Jill Keefer said. "People are asking my dad about her. I'll be at the gas station, and people will say, 'I want to see her hit one out.' She's putting Gladwin on the map, in a sense, in softball."
Fennell has done a good job of handling the attention she's received for chasing and breaking the record, her coach said.
"She's very humble about it," Keefer said. "She just wants to play softball and wants to win. She's very passionate about the game. If she broke it, she broke it. Yes, she wanted to do it once she got that close to it. There was a little more hype the closer she got. People put pressure on her as she got close, even her teammates — 'C'mon, hit one today!' There were a few teams that didn't pitch to her, too; you had that factor. Now she's focused on winning Districts."
Fennell is a three-sport athlete, also playing volleyball and basketball for Gladwin. But no matter what sport was in season, she found a way to put in the work necessary to more than double her previous career home run total.
"Softball is my number one sport, my favorite sport always," Fennell said. "I had time to fit it in. I make time for it. Even if it's an hour, I go in and hit and do whatever I have to do. During the winter time, I was in the gym every weekend with my dad (Gladwin assistant coach Steven Fennell). I practiced hard when I went. I did extra reps."
Fennell is averaging one home run every 6.5 at bats. With 19 homers, 11 doubles and a triple among her 57 hits in 123 at bats, she has a whopping 1.032 slugging percentage. She has driven in 65 runs and is hitting .463. She has struck out only nine times, walking 16.
The fences on Gladwin's home field are 200 feet from home plate, but it's not as if Fennell is benefitting from a short porch. Nine of her home runs are at home and 10 have been on the road. She has come within inches of tacking on a few more home runs to her record total.
"We were at (Midland) Dow last Tuesday," Keefer said. "She hit the fence twice, and it was a 225-foot fence. If she'd been on our field, they would've been out. (Tuesday at Standish-Sterling) she hit the fence again, and it was a 214-foot fence."
Fennell is more than just a slugger. Playing primarily shortstop, she has a .900 fielding percentage. The versatile Fennell has also pitched and played catcher.
"She's a smart player," Keefer said. "She sees the field very well. She sees runners very well. She can pitch, she can catch, she can play anywhere in the field. I'd put her in the outfield, too. She has such a strong arm."
Fennell will continue her playing career at Delta College.
"They have a good dental assistant program that I'm looking into," she said. "A couple of my teammates from travel ball are going there. The coach seemed really interested and said I'd have a starting spot on the team."
Before she puts on a Delta uniform, she will try to win a District championship. The Flying G's are 29-9 heading into a District Semifinal matchup with Ogemaw Heights at noon Saturday at Cadillac. In the other semifinal, a Cadillac team that received honorable mention in the last coaches' rankings will face Gaylord at 10 a.m.
"That would be amazing to win, especially with Regionals being at home," Fennell said. "That would be awesome to have our whole crowd cheering us on."
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. 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) Gladwin's Dayna Fennell prepares to connect with a pitch during this season's Beaverton Invitational. (Middle) Fennell throws to first base against Ithaca. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.
The 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.”
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 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.)