Grand Blanc Enjoying Every Minute of Softball Success
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
May 19, 2021
The Grand Blanc softball team has made having fun a priority this season.
Whether that’s led to more wins, or the wins have simply made having fun that much easier, one thing is clear: They’re connected, and the Bobcats are enjoying both in abundance.
“Our motto this year is finish, family and focus,” senior pitcher Kendall Klochack said. “We hit all three of those hard in practice, especially family. We’re like sisters, so if you see us having fun in any pictures, it’s because we truly enjoy being around one another.”
Grand Blanc is 24-1 on the season following a doubleheader sweep Monday of Mount Pleasant, and has risen to No. 2 in the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association Division 1 rankings.
“We’re having a blast,” Grand Blanc coach Jami Neubecker said. “We hit culture really hard right at the beginning. They came together as a team, and they’re having a good time. They trust and believe in one another, and they just have fun.”
Grand Blanc has big goals, led by playing during the final weekend of the season at Michigan State University. But the team is making a point to celebrate each victory, and perhaps more importantly, celebrate each other after every victory.
After each game, players take part in a verbal bouquet, where they praise each other for everything from getting a big hit to keeping the scorebook. As players are shouted out, the coaching staff tosses them beads.
Beyond that, three players receive a Gamechanger Chain -- a dollar sign necklace – for coming through for the team. They’re awarded each day by the players who had won the game before.
“We’ve done a variation of it for a while,” Neubecker said. “One of my first years coaching, I found this little figurine, it was a warrior princess with a sword and a shield that we gave out. There’s always been a rendition of it, we’ve just kind of taken it up a notch with the blinged-out chain. It’s to bring us together as a team and recognize what each other can contribute to the game, even during the loss. I’d rather they focus on the positive, and I like to promote what’s going well so more of it happens.”
With the beads, the message of positivity and teamwork is getting through, as freshman middle infielder Audrey Kranz said it’s shown her and her teammates that everyone is contributing to the victory, even by doing the smaller, often unnoticed things.
And the fact that teammates are the ones giving the praise makes it even more meaningful.
“I would say it definitely means more coming from your teammates,” senior first baseman Rebecca Oetting said. “Especially when it’s something that other people don’t recognize but you did something that changed the game. When a teammate sees that, it’s even more special than when a coach does.”
Grand Blanc is doing plenty of the things that are usually noticed, as well, hitting over .400 as a team and dominating with pitching and defense.
Klochack, who has signed with Purdue, is leading the way in both areas, as she carried a .557 batting average into Monday’s games against Mount Pleasant, and has been nearly unhittable in the circle. Through 71 innings, she had allowed just 22 hits, four walks and one earned run while striking out 146. Her earned-run average sat at 0.099, as she had racked up 14 shutouts, three no-hitters and four one-hitters.
“It definitely helps a lot knowing we have someone that can pitch that well,” said Oetting, who has signed to play at Northwood. “Even if our bats aren’t going, we still have a chance to win with Kendall on the mound.”
The bats are typically going well, too, though. Sophomore Carson Kuhlmann (.524), junior Summer Brady (.471), sophomore Sydney Long (.470) and freshman Katelyn DeWitt (.468) are all hitting above .450 on the season, while Klochack (.622 on-base percentage), Kuhlmann (.592), DeWitt (.547), Brady (.526) and senior Annabelle Morningstar (.500) are getting on base in at least half of their plate appearances.
“There’s been times in the past where we’ve been in a really tight game and it feels like I can’t miss any pitches,” Klochack said. “But when you’re able to bat one through nine, you can open up some big leads. You can pitch a little looser when you have a big cushion. You’re able to pitch better knowing that your bats will come through.”
It’s the type of season the Bobcats thought was possible a year ago, as they were bringing back a strong group that had come off a stellar 2019 which ended with a walk-off loss in the Regional. So now that it’s happening, they’re enjoying every minute of it.
“Missing last season was very heartbreaking,” Klochack said. “Especially because it was such a special and talented group of girls. But we’re trying not to focus on what could have been, because what’s in front of us is so bright and so special. You never really appreciate something until it’s gone, so this season, every single practice, it’s not that I have to go to practice today – it’s that I get to practice today. I get to see my teammates.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) From left: Annalise Anderson, Carson Kuhlmann and Rebecca Oetting show off the “Gamechanger Chains” they earned during a recent game. (Middle) The Bobcats enjoy a Slurpee run this spring. (Below) Focuses on fun and family atmosphere are driving Grand Blanc’s 24-1 start. (Photos courtesy of the Grand Blanc softball program.)
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.