Grosse Pointe South Shortstop Fearless, Tireless on Field, Brilliant in Classroom
By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
May 13, 2022
That Shannon Dame won't go on to play scholarship softball at the college level won't have a bearing on the impact she's had on the program at Grosse Pointe South the last four seasons.
And besides, playing softball collegiately was Plan B. Plan A has always been deciding what university would offer Dame the best opportunity academically. While Dame is a darn good softball player, few can match her accolades as a student.
Dame never has earned less than an A in high school, sports a 4.44 GPA, scored a 35 (out of 36) on the ACT and a 1560 (out of 1600) on the SAT. Dame didn't miss a question in mathematics and science, which makes perfect sense. She has been accepted at the University of Michigan and will enter the school of engineering with plans to major in biomedical engineering. She earned a partial academic scholarship to U-M and also was awarded a National Merit Scholarship.
“I took a bunch of AP (advanced placement) science courses (at South),” she said. “I just love math and science. I always have.”
Athletically, Dame played three sports (softball, basketball, volleyball) before concentrating on softball and her academics beginning with her junior year.
From the first day as a member of coach Bill Fleming's varsity team, Dame has shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to be the best player and teammate she could possibly be. Whether that meant staying after practice to work on her fielding or mentoring younger players, like sophomore second baseman Lilly Stidham, Dame has given her all.
“I was aware of her before (her freshman season),” Fleming said. “She was the quietest kid I'd ever known. It was 'yes coach' or 'no coach,' and that was it. Even then she'd come to practice early, and she'd stay late. She's very focused. She's a person who if you tell her something once you wouldn't have to say it again.
“What sets her apart is that she works so hard. She's constantly asking me to stay after practice to hit her ground balls. She's made herself a better player. I've coached football, wrestling and softball since the mid-90s, and through all of those years and teams I've coached she's worked harder than any player I've had.”
Dame started at second base as a freshman before Fleming moved her to shortstop and the leadoff spot last season. COVID-19 led to the cancelation of the 2020 season, but Dame was able to play travel ball during that summer.
She batted .481 last season and was hit by pitches 20 times, placing her second on the MHSAA record book single-season list. She's currently batting .512 with an on-base percentage of .596, with 18 runs scored despite missing six of South's 22 games. On April 21 in a game against Port Huron, Dame suffered a knee injury that caused some consternation.
“There was a pop up and we had some miscommunication,” she said. “I reacted to the ball coming down, and when I went for it my knee kind of twisted.
“It was pretty nerve-racking. I waited five days for the (MRI) results and had to wait two or three more to get cleared (to play). It's a bone bruise. It's getting better, and I don't feel (the pain) much now.”
Dame credits hitting coach Molly Clexton with her improvement at the plate. Dame has the tendency to crowd the plate – thus all of hit-by-pitches – and Clexton encouraged her to back off a bit. This and other tips have made Dame one of the top leadoff hitters in the Macomb Area Conference.
“(Clexton) helped me with the bat angle,” Dame said. “I wasn't always quick with my hands, and she helped me with my bat speed. And she really helped me with my confidence. I was nervous as a freshman. Even my friends noticed a difference with me at the plate.”
Every player had to deal with the COVID season, and Dame just tried to make the best of it.
“I'd play catch with my brother (Brian), my dad or my mom,” she said. “My parents bought me a net so I could practice hitting in the backyard. Even though I missed that (sophomore) season, I did play travel during the summer. With that extra time I was able to work on my hitting. It was the part of my game that I was lacking in confidence.”
While many players might have taken a step back after missing out on 2020, Dame displayed tremendous improvement heading into her junior year.
“She's fearless,” Fleming said. “She doesn't give any of the plate away. She's not a slap hitter. She's disciplined. What she does is use what we call a quick bunt. As a right-hand hitter, she wants to get out of the box quickly. She's a singles and doubles hitter, and she told me this year she wants to hit a home run.”
Another goal is to win an MHSAA Division 1 District title. Dame has not been a part of a District-winning team, and to accomplish that South most likely would have to defeat its biggest rival, Grosse Pointe North. South has had an up-and-down season but sits 13-9 after losing to Warren Regina on Thursday.
“We're a good team,” Dame said. “As a team, we need to get our heads into the game. We've made too many mental mistakes.”
Dame does plan to continue playing the sport in Ann Arbor. She hopes to join U-M's club program.
Tom Markowski primarily covered high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. He also is a former correspondent and web content director for State Champs! Sports Network. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grosse Pointe South shortstop Shannon Dame prepares to defend her side of the infield. (Middle) Dame has started for the Blue Devils since her freshman year. (Below) Dame stands in ready for the next pitch. (Photos courtesy of the Grosse Pointe South softball program.)
Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
May 24, 2023
Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.
So, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.
“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.
There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.
That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.
“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”
Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.
While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.
The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.
“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”
Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.
Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.
“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”
Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.
“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”
The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.
Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.
“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”
While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.
But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.
“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”
The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.
“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”
During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.
So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.
That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.
“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”
Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.
“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”
Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.
All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.
“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”
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 protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)