By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half
“If the weatherman is in a co-operative mood, Michigan’s high school athletes, both boys and girls, will wind up another competitive school year Saturday,” wrote Detroit’s premier high school sports scribe, Hal Schram, 40 years ago just prior to the staging of the 1978 MHSAA softball and baseball state finals weekend.
“Let’s hope we get them in on schedule”, said Bob James, director of athletics for the Warren Consolidated Schools and a member of the MHSAA Representative Council. “I’ve been in high school sports for 35 years, and can’t remember a spring with more postponements and cancellations.”
Despite highest hopes, weather would, again, be a factor on the final weekend of the prep season. Games were scheduled for eight locations around the Lower Peninsula, with rain postponing Class B and Class C contests in softball and Class B and Class D in baseball.
In the 1979 yearbook, Impressions, published by East Detroit High School, staff celebrated school’s past half-decade of accomplishment and history:
“Girls have been playing softball at East Detroit now for almost 50 years, although it was called the girls baseball team until the mid-sixties. The teams have always done very well, many of them went undefeated, but none of them ever did as well as the 1978 squad.”
Roxanne “Rocky” Szczesniak, who would later earn All-American honors at Wayne State University, tossed a four-hitter and smashed a three-run homer as the Shamrocks eliminated defending Class A champion Portage Central, 6-3, in the day’s opening Semifinal, played at East Detroit’s Memorial Park. It was only the second defeat in 52 games for Portage Central, coached by Tom Monroe.
Waterford Township slipped past Flint Carman, 1-0, in 10 innings in the day’s second Semifinal, then capitalized on six errors by East Detroit in the title game to grab the Class A softball championship, 4-0. In the first inning, Mari Latozas doubled home a run to open the scoring for the Skippers. Waterford then added unearned runs in the third and fifth to seal the win. Coached by Joe Alsup, the Skippers finished the year at 25-3. He would post a 197-39 record in nine seasons at the school before it closed following the 1982-83 school year. Twenty years later, Alsup’s Waterford Kettering team earned the 1998 Class A softball crown. Today, he ranks fourth in all-time softball coaching victories in Michigan.
In Class B, Fenton cruised to their first of three straight titles with an 8-5 win over South Haven at Belknap Park in Grand Rapids on Monday, June 19, the game rescheduled because of the weather. Pitcher Barb Barclay posted her 24th win without a loss and boosted Fenton’s season mark to 28-1. Barclay was instrumental in the win at the plate as well with a triple and a single, while scoring three runs for the Tigers. With two outs in the third inning, Fenton rallied with four straight hits to open up a 2-1 lead. South Haven again jumped in front, 4-2, in the fifth, but Fenton bounced right back, again rallying with two down to open up a 7-4 lead.
“This was our biggest challenge of the season,” said Fenton coach Dave Lazar. “For a young team, South Haven is pretty good. They’re scrappers.”
It was South Haven’s second consecutive trip to the Finals. In 1977, the Rams lost to Grosse Ile, 5-3. South Haven would return to the Finals for a third straight time in 1979, again falling to Fenton.
Earlene Seeley, who would later play college ball at Ferris State, reached first base on a bunt, stole second, then scored on an error to give Shepherd a 1-0 lead over New Lothrop before rain forced delay at Brookwood Park in Clare on Saturday. Pitcher Deb McAvoy, who had hurled three and a third innings of no-hit ball, completed the first no-hitter in MHSAA title game history as Shepherd grabbed a 2-0 victory in the Class C championship on Monday. It would be six more years before a second no-hitter was tossed in the Softball Finals. Since McAvoy’s gem, 14 additional no-nos have been thrown in the MHSAA softball title game.
At Robinson Park in Ionia, Laingsburg swept to a 6-1 win over Central Lake for the Class D softball title. Junior Robbin Sawyer, who upped her record to 17-0 on the season, tossed a two-hitter in the Wolfpack’s 15-2 Semifinal win over Owendale-Gagetown and then held Central Lake to a single hit in the title game. Sue Hurst went 3 for 3 at the plate in the championship game, including singling home a run before scoring on the front end of a double steal, all in the first inning. Carrie Kooster tripled twice in the Semifinal, driving in six runs to lead the Wolves.
Boasting an outstanding pitching staff, coach Marv Rettenmund’s Flint Southwestern squad rolled through the regular season, then battled its way through the tournament before downing East Kentwood, 7-1, to win the first, and only, Class A baseball title in Flint-area history.
"Sometimes, you have pretty good players, and when you have them, you'd better cash in," Rettenmund told the Flint Journal 30 years later.
Blessed with a “1-2 punch of senior left-hander Ruben Luna (14-0 with a 0.82 earned-run average) and senior right-hander Risto Nicevski (9-1, 0.72),” Southwestern dropped only three of 35 games, (all by a single run) before rolling to 16 straight victories. Tournament play was “capped by five close games,” including a scare in the Semifinal, before the championship matchup.
Luna and Nicevski combined for a one-hitter in the title contest, played at Memorial Field in Wyandotte. Earlier in the day, Luna fanned 12 batters in a three-hit, 1-0 shutout of Plymouth Canton. Third baseman Bob Cardenas singled home designated hitter Al Weatherford in the fifth inning for the game’s only run.
"That was one of the toughest teams we played," said Rettenmund. Plymouth Canton’s Russ Mandle led off the seventh inning with a booming double between the gap in left and centerfield, but was gunned down when trying to stretch it to a triple. “We made a perfect relay — (left fielder Dale) Bennis to (shortstop Matt) Diment to Cardenas.
"That was a once-in-a-lifetime ballclub."
Tom O’Dowd allowed a single hit in Jackson Lumen Christi’s 10-6 victory over Spring Lake in Class B, played at Aquinas College’s Kimble Field in Wyoming. The game, rescheduled to Monday after Saturday’s rain, saw six errors mar Spring Lake’s dreams of a title. Three of Lumen Christi’s first four batters reached base or advanced on errors, and all scored as the Titans jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Dave Schonhard notched the game’s only RBI, doubling in a pair of runs in the second inning to increase the lead to five. O’Dowd, selected in the 12th round of Major League Baseball’s amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the spring, claimed 14 strikeouts, but dealt with control problems, walking 13. Trailing 10-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, the Lakers took advantage, gaining four walks and notching their only hit to pull within four before O’Dowd was relieved and the side was retired.
“We ran into a heckuva pitcher,” said Spring Lake coach Don Rohn following the game. “He throws the ball well. He’s probably the fastest right-hander we’ve seen all season.”
The win capped a stellar school year for the Titans, who won the Class B football crown in the fall and the Tier II hockey title in the winter.
Delayed by heavy rain, Bay City All Saints pounded out 13 hits including three singles by Ed Pawlaczyk, to down Addison, 8-0, in Class C championship play at Marshall High School. Dave Shooltz allowed seven hits in five innings for the win. Randy Morse, who went the distance in the team’s 2-0 Semifinal triumph over Allen Park Cabrini, earned the save. It was the first of seven final game appearances by All Saints and their first of four state baseball titles. The seven visits to the championship game has been equaled by Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and exceeded by Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher, with eight. Blissfield leads the list with nine trips to championship games, and tops all schools for baseball state titles with seven.
With two outs in the top of the 10th inning, Saranac’s Steve Metternick doubled in two runs to break a 1-1 deadlock as the Redskins topped Frankfort 4-1 in the Class D title showdown. The game, played at Alumni Field on the campus of Central Michigan University, had been interrupted on Saturday at the top of the third, with Saranac leading 1-0. Southpaw Craig Coulson earned the win for the Cinderella squad, going all the way. The sophomore hurler allowed four hits, struck out eight and walked four on the afternoon. Saranac ended the season with 16 victories against 11 defeats.
Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with ideas for historical articles.
PHOTOS: (Top) Shepherd’s softball team poses with its 1978 Class C championship trophy. (Middle top) East Detroit’s Rocky Szczesniak unloads a pitch for the eventual Class A champ. (Middle below) Ruben Luna prepares to deliver for Flint Southwestern. (Below) Saranac’s “Cinderella” Class D champion celebrates.
Jada Bolhuis finished up her Otsego softball career this spring all over the MHSAA record book – and despite playing only three seasons because 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.
Bolhuis owns 12 entries in the MHSAA record book including for 228 career runs (16th all-time), 230 career hits and a .622 career batting (sixth all-time) over 112 games and three varsity seasons.
She also made the hitting streak list twice, with a run of 44 straight games with a hit from April of her freshman year until the end of April of her junior season, and for a 33-game hitting streak during her junior and senior springs. The 44-game streak is the second-longest in MHSAA history.
Bolhuis also is a track sprinter and is slated to run at University of Tampa.
We’re continuing to catch up on adding record book listings. See below for more of the most recent added for softball.
Richland Gull Lake’s Savanna Disbrow had a par of significant run-producing games over the course of two weeks in May 2021. She drove in seven runs against Mattawan that May 5, then eight in a win over Delton Kellogg on May 20. She played this past season at Bemidji State in Minnesota.
Gabby Schloop put up a senior season to remember for Midland in 2021, posting the fifth-most runs scored (83) and tying for the fifth-most doubles (27) in MHSAA history, while also making the single-season hits list with 70 and career doubles list with 49 over three seasons. Taylor Sanborn also made the single-season hits list in 2021 as a senior, and also with 70. Sanborn continued her career at Calvin University, and Schloop at Northwood.
Maddisyn Miller also was added for RBI in a single game, driving in seven May 12, 2021, for Ovid-Elsie against Laingsburg. She is a junior this fall.
Rochester Adams earned its first softball record book entries in 2021. Then-junior Sabrina Lee was added for getting hit by 17 pitches over 34 games. Teammate Elizabeth Blaine, a senior that season, hit home runs in consecutive at bats, both in the second inning, of a game against Auburn Hills Avondale.
Potent offense helped drive Grandville to a 31-5 finish in 2019, with a number of top hitters in the record book. As a team, the Bulldogs are listed for 399 hits, 76 doubles, 34 home runs and 292 RBI that season. Then-senior Taylor Buiter was added for 10 home runs, including a pair in consecutive at bats, and then-junior Maddi Ungrey was added for three home runs in the same game all in consecutive at bats as well. Then-senior Lexi Dukesherer became the first player listed for being hit by a pitch twice in the same inning, and she also made the single-game list in that category for three. Additionally, former Grandville standout Carrie Mesman was added for her 17 doubles in 2015. Mesman went on to play at Aquinas College, and Buiter played at Ferris State.
Bath’s Bailee Buck has become the first entry for career times hit by pitches, as she totaled 30 over 99 games from 2017-19 (with her senior season of 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). She also made the single-game list with three HBPs as a junior. Teammate Ally Estrada was added twice for hitting consecutive home runs, five days apart during the 2019 season, and also for driving in seven runs in the first of those games May 18, 2019, against Algonac. Estrada graduated this spring.
Grosse Pointe South’s Shannon Dame became the second player added to the single-season hit-by-pitch list. She was hit by 20 pitches during the 2021 season, when she was a junior.
A trio of New Lothrop hitters were added for hitting during the 2021 spring, led by then-junior Jersey Hemgesberg who was added for 73 hits, 25 doubles and 12 home runs over 38 games – with the 25 doubles tying for seventh-most in MHSAA history. Additionally, Brynne Birchmeier was added for 20 doubles and Marissa Rombach for 17. Both are juniors this fall.
Bloomfield Hills sophomore Hannah Grant made the single-game lists for home runs and RBI during a win over Berkley on April 7. She had three homers and six RBI in the 9-7 win; the three homers tied for second-most in one contest.
Buchanan sophomore Hailee Kara also joined the single-game RBI list with nine during a 19-7 win over Vicksburg on April 21. The nine RBI tied for seventh-most in one contest.
PHOTO Jada Bolhuis makes a throw to first base during Otsego’s District Final win over South Haven this spring. (Photo by Gary Shook.)