Hitters Become Heroes for Division 2 Finalists

June 13, 2019

By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Sometimes all it takes is a slow roller, or maybe taking one for the team.

Finding a way to get to a dominant pitcher is never an easy task. But Thursday morning, Stevensville Lakeshore pretty much did a little bit of everything to find a way past No. 3 Eaton Rapids and star pitcher Grace Lehto, 8-1, in a Division 2 Semifinal matchup at Secchia Stadium.

The Lancers broke open a tight game with six runs in the fourth inning, using a hit by pitch, a pair of singles, an error, a gap-shot triple, another hard-hit double and a softly-hit fielder’s choice to get the job done.

Junior Meghan Younger opened things up by being hit by a pitch. After freshman Gianna Kerschbaum reached based on an error and a groundout by sophomore Shelby Grau moved a pair of runners into scoring position, Lakeshore used back-to-back ground balls by freshman Anna Chellman and senior Nadia Amicarelli to plate a pair of runs and take a 3-0 lead. One out later, junior Sierra Ciesielski found the gap in right-center, scoring both Chellman and Amicarelli. Ciesielski would then score on a single by junior Isabella Najera.

The Lancers capped off their scoring on an RBI double by junior Laney Mead, scoring pinch runner Grace Connelly. 

“Coach (Steve) Spenner has just done a fabulous job with our hitters. We knew we couldn’t just go up there and swing wild,” Lakeshore head coach Denny Dock said. “We said, ‘Every pitch is hit with two strikes,’ and we really disciplined ourselves to do that. We told them to not go up there with the idea that you’re just going to outswing this girl. Because history says that’s not going to happen. (Lehto) is a good pitcher. We tried to just cut back a little bit and then once we got momentum going, holy cow, did we see it.”

Lehto, an all-state pitcher who led her team back to the Semifinals for the second straight season, entered the game with a 30-1 record and a miniscule 0.34 earned run average. But on Thursday, she just didn’t have her best stuff.

“It was surprising, how they hit the ball (off Lehto),” Eaton Rapids head coach Scott Warriner said. “But again, you’ve got to give them credit. They were well-prepared, and they drove the ball well on us.

“We had a couple chances to make a few plays that we didn’t quite make. She hadn’t been hit like that this year. The most runs she had given up this year was two runs in a game.”

Ciesielski, Najera and Amicarelli all had two hits and two RBI each for the Lancers. Mead also collected a pair of hits.

“This was kind of a schedule win,” said Dock, who credited a tough slate against some of the state’s top pitchers for his team’s success against Lehto. “We’ve seen the (pitcher) from Gull Lake. We’ve seen the girl from Penn (Ind.). We’ve played Caledonia three games. It’s not like we don’t see (this kind of pitching). Don’t get me wrong, she’s good. But our schedule, we build it to see kids like this. You hope you get a chance to play at this level and see if it all works. Today it worked.”

Kerschbaum picked up the win in the circle for Lakeshore, which will face Escanaba in Saturday’s Division 2 championship game. She pitched 3? innings of scoreless softball. Najera and Connelly finished the game up to help their team advance.

“We’ve got a pitching staff, and we’re not afraid to put them in there,” Dock said. “All three of them did a great job in their time. What a team. We used our roster.”

Lehto finished with three hits at the plate to lead the Greyhounds (39-4). Junior Kendi Richardson drove in her team’s lone run with her groundout scoring pinch runner Mallory Orr in the fifth inning.

Click for the full box score.

Escanaba 2, North Branch 1

The celebration started when the ball left the yard off the bat of Escanaba sophomore Nicole Kamin. It continued when junior pitcher Gabi Salo struck out the last North Branch batter of the game. And it was certain to continue well into the afternoon Thursday, as the Eskymos were set to make a trip to the MSU Dairy Store to celebrate yet another appearance in the Division 2 championship game.

Kamin hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, and Salo pitched a one-hit gem to help lead their team over North Branch as they continued to pursue a repeat title.

“We battled, we battled, we battled,” said Escanaba head coach Gary Salo. “Nicole’s a basketball kid, just an athletic kid who finds her way to the top of the order with a swing that drops her hands, drops her shoulders. She caught the middle of that ball.”

With her team trailing 1-0 and with two outs in the sixth, Kamin drilled a 2-2 pitch over the wall in left-center, sending the Eskymos’ bench – and the entire crowd – into a frenzy.

“The nerves were kicking in for sure,” said Kamin, who admitted not thinking too much when walking up to the plate. “I just went up there and swung it. It’s just amazing, honestly. Such a big game like this, to bring us to a championship game. It’s awesome.”

Through five innings Thursday, Salo wasn’t sure his team would get a chance to play for another title Saturday. North Branch scored an unearned run in the top of the fourth inning, thanks to an Escanaba error and RBI double by senior Reese Ruhlman, scoring senior Autumn Deshetsky.

“Our defense let us down just a little bit today, not bad,” Salo said. “I kept peeking at the board thinking, ‘You can’t go home giving up one hit.’

“I told (Gabi), ‘We’re gonna get ya two. I don’t know when it’s gonna happen, but we’re gonna get ya two.’ ”

North Branch head coach Alyssa Welling was proud of her team for battling back after a dominating start by Gabi Salo, who struck out 14 batters.

“We worked on hitting yesterday,” Welling said. “This is the best pitcher we've seen all season. We knew what we were getting into coming into this game. They've never said no. They said, 'OK, I've got this next at-bat.' They never stopped.”

Salo credited his team’s recent deep playoff runs with helping it rally for the win over the Broncos.

“I told these ladies when we got off the bus – as a coach you even try to make up stuff at times – that we’re the only team that this is the fourth year in a row (in East Lansing). I didn’t check my facts, but the kids bought into it. I told them, ‘Let’s play our best game,’” the coach said. “We have not played our best game yet, and that’s a scary thought. To get to a state championship game without playing your best game just puts a smile on our face. We’re going to go out and have a ball.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba’s Nicole Kamin circles third base into a celebration after her go-ahead home run Thursday. (Middle) Lakeshore’s Gianna Kerschbaum unloads a pitch against Eaton Rapids.

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.