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.

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

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) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)