Just 1 Hit - Plus Brilliant Pitching - Earns Evart's 1st Finals Title in Any Sport

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

June 15, 2024

EAST LANSING – Evart flexed its muscles during Friday’s Semifinals, smacking three over-the-fence home runs.

In Saturday’s Division 3 Final, the Wildcats managed only one single the entire game – which turned out to be just enough to bring home the first team state championship in school history in any sport.

Sophomore ace Kyrah Gray threw a shutout, and her sophomore classmate Mattisen Tiedt delivered her team’s only hit in the bottom of the sixth inning – a run-scoring shot to right field to bring home Allyson Theunick – lifting Evart to a 1-0 victory over hard-luck Ottawa Lake Whiteford at Secchia Stadium.

“You could tell it was going to come down to one hit, and I still can’t believe that it was me,” said Tiedt, a first baseman who bats fourth in the lineup.

The Bobcats never gave up, using singles from Kaydence Sheldon and Koralynn Billau to put runners on second and third base with just one out in the top of the seventh inning. But Gray showed her grit, digging deep and striking out the next two batters to preserve the win.

The Wildcats’ Keira Elder (20) slides under a Whiteford tag.Gray threw a five-hitter with 12 strikeouts in a classic pitchers’ duel against Whiteford senior Unity Nelson, who surrendered just the one hit and struck out eight.

“We won ugly,” said first-year Wildcats coach Shaun Gray, a 1998 Evart graduate and Kyrah’s father. “We have won ugly at times this year and, at other times, we showed off our bats. We’ll take it however we can get it.”

The win atoned for a heartbreaking Finals loss two years ago for Evart, which fell to Millington, 3-2, in eight innings.

This year’s game appeared headed for extra innings as both Gray and Nelson refused to give an inch.

Evart (37-4) finally got something going in the sixth inning when Theunick got hit by a pitch and stole second. That runner in scoring position brought the Evart fans, led by a loud and enthusiastic student section, to their feet.

After the next batter, slugger Katelyn Gostlin, fouled off several pitches before finally popping out to the shortstop, Coach Gray knew a breakthrough was near.

“Unity is such a great pitcher, but we were starting to get our timing down on her,” said Gray, who is assisted by Kevin Brigham. “I called a timeout and told Matty (Tiedt) that there was no one I would rather have batting right then than her. Then she got in there and came through.”

Whiteford (30-6-1) has lost in Finals three consecutive years, including now nearly identical 1-0 losses the past two.

In both of those games, Nelson dominated in the circle, only to see the opposition – Standish-Sterling last year and Evart this year – come through with one timely hit.

“Unity is one of the most inspirational players ever at Whiteford,” said fifth-year Bobcats coach Matt VanBrandt. “She keeps us in every game and, most of the time, we can do enough to win. Just not today.

The Bobcats’ Unity Nelson unwinds as she steps toward the plate.“But we played six games in Secchia Stadium in the last three years, which is pretty impressive.”

Sheldon and Billau both had two hits for Whiteford.

Nelson, who will continue her pitching career at North Dakota, finished her senior season with a 19-3 record and 287 strikeouts.

Part of the reason Whiteford was not able to break this time through was the clutch pitching of Gray with runners on base. The sophomore came of age on the state’s biggest softball stage, also striking out the final two batters during the second inning after Whiteford put two runners on, just like her finish to the seventh.

She smiled when told that gave her dad a special Father’s Day gift one day early.

“My whole focus this weekend was just to pitch my game and not get overwhelmed by all of this,” Gray said, pointing around MSU’s sprawling Old College Field, where baseball, softball and soccer championship games are played.

“We knew it would be a dogfight, and we had to keep fighting to get one. We finally got it.”

The win made a prophet out of Shaun Gray, who completed his first year as Evart’s varsity coach but knows all of the girls extremely well after coaching them for years in recreation and travel ball, starting in elementary school.

“I got laughed at when I said that Evart could compete for the state title and that Evart could have all-state players,” said Gray about his hometown of about 1,700 people, just moments after turning that championship vision into a reality.

“No one is laughing now.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Evart players celebrate their first Finals championship in any sport Saturday at Secchia Stadium. (Middle) The Wildcats’ Keira Elder (20) slides under a Whiteford tag. (Below) The Bobcats’ Unity Nelson unwinds as she steps toward the plate.