Holton Stops Record Scoring Attack, USA Earns Record-Setting Opportunity

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

June 14, 2024

EAST LANSING – Hillman scored more runs this season than any team in state history, averaging more than 13 per game.

But the machine never got cranked up on the big stage of Secchia Stadium on Friday, due in large part to the combination of crafty Holton junior pitcher Kenzie Greene and terrific defense behind her.

Then senior slugger Ryann Robins did the rest.

Robins lined a two-run single in the second inning before putting the game away with a monstrous three-run shot over the rightfield wall to power Holton to an 8-0 victory in Friday’s Division 4 Semifinal – and earn the Red Devils a spot in the Softball Finals for the first time.

“This team has worked so hard and really improved and here we are, in the state championship game,” said 10th-year Holton coach Kirk Younts, who has guided the Red Devils to the Semifinals four times. “Our defense was great today, but I’m telling you, at the beginning of the year it was terrible. We have really improved, and it’s great to be playing our best right now.”

Holton (29-12-1) will play in its first softball championship game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against perennial softball powerhouse and No. 1-ranked Unionville-Sebewaing (30-11), which has won nine championships, including the last four in Division 4.

If the Patriots win Saturday, they will tie Kalamazoo Christian (which won titles from 1996 to 2000) for the state record with five consecutive softball championships.

Speaking of history, Hillman broke the all-time state record for runs scored in a season this spring with 561, an average of 13.4 runs per game heading into this weekend – which made it even more impressive that Greene and the Red Devils held the Tigers to just four singles and zero runs.

Greene, a junior and one of three pitchers Holton uses on a regular basis, kept Hillman off balance with plenty of spin on her pitches.

“I didn’t know anything about their lineup and all of their records,” said Greene. “We played harder competition this season, and that got us ready for this.”

Green benefitted from outstanding defense behind her. She had only two strikeouts, so the Tigers were putting the ball in play, but the Red Devils were executing in the field – finishing with just one error.

Shortstop Abbie Fowler made a nifty stop and throw to first in the third inning, the outfield trio of Chloe McKee, Aubrey Goyings and Emma Monette was nearly flawless, and third baseman Monica Mullins ended the game with a diving grab in front of Hillman’s dugout.

Holton scored all the runs it would need in the first inning on RBI singles from Sydney McCormick and Monette, then Robins did the rest.

Robins, a senior who started as a freshman the last time Holton made it to the Semifinals in 2021, knocked in the final five runs. Her towering home run in the sixth inning, which capped the win, was her 20th of the season and 50th of her career.

“I am so happy, not for me, but for my school and my town,” said Robins. “We’ve never made it this far before, but if we are able to shock the world tomorrow and win it all, wow, I get goosebumps just thinking about that.”

Holton, ranked No. 5 in the state, finished with 10 hits. Lexi Bartolameolli, Robins, McCormick and McKee all had two.

Hillman pitcher Gretchen Weiland went the distance, allowing 10 hits and five walks, while striking out nine. Autumn Kazyaka went 2-for-3 and was the only Tiger with multiple hits.

Hillman coach Jason Weiland, whose team was ranked No. 7 coming in and finished 41-3, said his players tightened up on the big stage.

“Playing in this atmosphere, if you’re not used to it, can take you out of your game,” said Weiland. “Take nothing away from Holton, they have a great team, but our kids were really tight from the start.”

Click for the full box score.

Unionville-Sebewaing 6, Mendon 5

For the second-straight year, Mendon pushed USA right until the final out before coming up one run short.

In a rematch of last season’s Division 4 championship game, Mendon trailed 6-4 entering the bottom of the seventh inning and appeared to be done when the first two batters were retired. But after two walks, sophomore Cienna Nightingale ripped a solid base hit to score a run.

After USA second-year coach Marc Reinhardt and fourth-year starting catcher Gabby Crumm had a conference with Olivia Green on the mound, she calmly struck out the next batter to put the Patriots back in the championship game.

USA’s Olivia Green fires a pitch during her team’s victory at Secchia Stadium.“I just simplified everything, because all we needed was to get one more out,” said Crumb, who will play at Saginaw Valley State next year. “Softball is like 90 percent mental. I knew Olivia would come through, and she did.”

USA (30-11) scored three runs in the third inning on hits from Ella Neumann and Crumb, and scratched out single runs in the first, fifth and seventh innings to get the win.

Leadoff hitter Rylie Betson and Crumm each went 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

Green went all seven innings, allowing 10 hits with three walks and 11 strikeouts.

“I have a heart attack every 30 seconds in games like this,” joked Reinhardt. “We were able to pull it out because our nucleus of seniors have been here before and they know how to win here. Now, hopefully, they can go out like they are supposed to and get one more.”

Mendon, which was ranked third and finished 38-5, had more hits (10-7), but hurt itself with four errors – and also left nine runners on base.

The Hornets, who lost to USA 5-4 in last year’s championship game, were led by Jadyn Samson, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs; and Nightingale, who was 3-for-4 with one RBI.

Sophomore Rowan Allen pitched all seven innings, allowing seven hits with no walks with five strikeouts.

Mike Smith, the co-head coach of the Hornets along with Steve Butler, emphasized how proud the coaches are of the team, which reached the Semifinals again without a single senior on the roster. However, he said his program has had plenty of moral victories at this point.

“Close is great, but close isn’t what our goal is,” said Smith. “USA is a great program, but I’m sick of running into them and losing. Maybe next year we’ll figure out how to beat them.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Holton’s Aubrey Goyings (4) celebrates as teammate Chloe McKee pulls in a ball during their team’s Semifinal win Friday. (Middle) USA’s Olivia Green fires a pitch during her team’s victory at Secchia Stadium.