Mendon Focused on Taking Last Remaining Step to Claim 1st Finals Championship

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

April 3, 2024

MENDON – Mendon's run to the Division 4 softball championship game last spring may have shocked outsiders, but it wasn't a surprise to the Hornets or co-coaches Steve Butler and Mike Smith.

Southwest CorridorMendon gave four-time reigning champion Unionville-Sebewaing a major scare before falling 5-4 to the Patriots in the Final at Michigan State University's Secchia Stadium.

But there could be a new Division 4 champion in the near future as Mendon, ranked No. 10 in the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association preseason poll, returns all but two players from its 2023 squad.

In finishing 35-6, the Hornets set a program record for most wins in a single season last spring and also were Southwest 10 Conference champs, claimed District and Regional trophies, pulled off dramatic wins over Fowler (13-12) in the Quarterfinal and Johannesburg-Lewiston (4-2) in the Semifinal before a seventh-inning rally fell short in the loss to USA.

That was Mendon's first Finals appearance since 1992, when it lost in the Class D championship game 2-0 to Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes.

While Butler admits last year's run was a bit unexpected, he said the Hornets showed their potential by winning a prestigious early-season event. With a squad featuring just two seniors and 10 sophomores and freshmen, Mendon defeated three state-ranked teams, all via the 10-run mercy rule, to win the Holton Tournament.

Rowan Allen pitches for Mendon in a 2023 Regional game at Colon."Quite honestly, I figured we'd be lucky to go 8-5 those first couple of weeks last season. We had a difficult early-season schedule. Winning the Holton Tournament was a big momentum builder for us," Butler said.

Butler and Smith, both former standout athletes at Mendon, took over the softball program seven years ago.

"At Mendon, the goal is always to make it to the state championship no matter what sport you're in,” Butler said. “Mike and I have played a lot of baseball and softball over the years. We both had daughters coming up through the program. So when the coaching opening came up, we just felt our knowledge and desire to win would help us provide the program with the best experience and chance for the girls to get to the championship game.”

Modest goals were set the first few seasons of their coaching tenure.

"That first year we set a goal of winning 20 games, and we fell one game short of that. Then we set a goal of winning a District, getting state-ranked and getting that Regional trophy. Then the goal was to become state-ranked, win Districts and Regionals and then we set the bar higher and higher," Butler said.

The experienced Hornets hope to complete their mission of winning it all this spring.

"This is a special group of kids, probably one of the best to ever come through this school. The tenacity and ferociousness they show is amazing. There's no quit in them, and that's evident in every sport they play. They believe they can win every game, are calm under pressure and work hard. They just have that championship aura and won't be satisfied until they win one," Butler said.

Several Mendon softball players were members of the state-ranked volleyball team this past fall and the basketball squad that reached the Division 4 Quarterfinals last month.

Abby and Ally Butler, Steve's junior twin daughters, return for their third season on Mendon's softball varsity, along with classmates Brielle Bailey and Kaidee Gonser.

Abby, a two-year starter, can play all three outfield positions and is working hard on being a slap hitter.

"I feel like I'm very useful in right field, especially when Rowan (Allen) is pitching for us. Her speed is a big adjustment for teams with right-handed hitters, so they tend to hit the ball more to me," Abby Butler said. "I'd like to be a more versatile hitter at the plate. I enjoy the other team not really knowing what I'm gonna do when I'm up there."

Abby Butler hit .302, Ally Butler .287, and Bailey .330 last season. Ally Butler is 15-0 for her career as a varsity pitcher and has played in more than 50 games. She'll be Mendon's No. 2 pitcher.

Abby Butler makes contact during last season’s Division 4 Final against USA. "We probably could've used her more as pitcher before now, but she is our biggest leader on the team. The kids really look up to her," Steve Butler said.

Ally Butler has a lot of trust in her teammates as well. "I think I communicate well with my team and lift them up when we're down. We have lots of trust in each other and are confident in ourselves," she said.

Bailey becomes the full-time starter at third after splitting time there with Carlie Doehring, who graduated.

"Brielle played third base and spent a lot of time as our designated hitter. She came up with a lot of big hits, including the game-winning RBI and a couple doubles in our Quarterfinal win over Fowler," Steve Butler said.

Gonser returns at catcher. She hit .496 with 60 hits and 34 runs scored last season. "Kaidee has improved defensively and is the best hitter on our team. She does a nice job back there for us. We hope to get her more rest this season so she's more effective for us the whole season," Butler said.

Sophomore Rowan Allen takes over as Mendon's No. 1 pitcher replacing Lauren Schabes, a three-time all-stater. Allen posted a 12-3 record with 150 strikeouts and a 1.64 ERA in 2023, and batted .419 with 44 hits, 49 runs scored and 31 RBI.

"Rowan had a phenomenal freshman season pitching. We're looking forward to seeing where she can take us this year. She's been in lots of big-pressure moments and has beaten many ranked teams," Butler said. "Her change-up pitch is her equalizer; it's nasty and she also throws a good fastball and dropball."

Allen closed out Mendon's Quarterfinal win over Fowler and locked down USA the last two innings in the championship game, giving the Hornets a chance to win in the seventh.

“My biggest strength is my fastball and being able to go to a changeup and being able to mix it up whenever I want,” Allen said. “Our teammates are always there to pick us up, and they never let us down. We have the confidence we need to reach our goals."

Other key sophomores include Mattea Bingaman, Gracie Schultz, Cienna Nightingale, Brooke Gerth and Jadyn Samson. Samson, Mendon's starting shortstop and No. 3 pitcher, fills another vital role as the lead-off hitter. She set a school record as a freshman with 46 stolen bases and was thrown out only once, also batting over .435 with 53 hits, 60 runs scored and 35 RBI.  

"Jadyn is the leader of our infield. She covers a lot of ground and doesn't make many errors. We're looking forward to having her and our entire infield back the next two years. She threw only one inning for us last year, but she's another hidden gem on the mound and will see some time there as well," Butler said.

Ally Butler readies to make a throw from her spot at second base."The experience last year was huge,” Samson added. “I have to keep working hard to be productive. We're young, but I think everyone is going to continue to grow. I feel the energy I bring to my position is a big help, and I'm always talking to my teammates. We are all in this for each other, like family.”

Nightingale is another key returning starter at first base. "Cienna is the best defensive first baseman we've ever coached. It's not the easiest position to play. She's very agile, quick, can scoop balls out of the dirt, stretch high and makes everyone else look good," Butler said.

Bingaman is Mendon's centerfielder. She finished last spring with a .434 average, 52 hits and 31 runs scored. "Mattea has a really strong arm and is very fast," Butler noted.

Gerth is pegged as Mendon's top utility player, while Schultz is another valuable contributor in the outfield.

"Depending on who's pitching and where we move people around, I feel we are one of the best defensive teams in the state. Our pitchers don't give up many runs. Offensively, five of our top nine hitters batted over .400. I expect our lineup to have more power too. We're more of a gap-hitting team though. We take a lot of walks, and we stress being aggressive on the basepaths," Steve Butler said. "All 10 of our players are in the mix and could be starters.

"The biggest thing is these girls feel they should've won a state title last season. They were immediately focused on this season after that loss. After their basketball Quarterfinals loss, I got a text at work at 11 p.m. from one of them wanting to know when softball practice started the next day. They are ready to go."

Mendon joined the Southern Central Athletic Association at the beginning of this school year, and preseason Division 4 honorable mention Burr Oak is among opponents on the schedule. The Hornets’ goals are to win the league and get back to Michigan State with a chance to hoist the first-place trophy.

"Repeating what we accomplished last year won't be easy because now everyone expects it,” Butler said. “We won't sneak up on anyone. It's a tough road. All the teams we played last year will be there again in the championship hunt.”

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Mendon starting shortstop Jadyn Samson fields a ground ball during a home game last season against Kalamazoo Christian. (2) Rowan Allen pitches for Mendon in a 2023 Regional game at Colon. (3) Abby Butler makes contact during last season’s Division 4 Final against USA. (4) Ally Butler readies to make a throw from her spot at second base. (Photos by Nicci Plummer.)

Performance of the Week: Jenison's Alli Wright

April 18, 2024

Alli Wright headshotAlli Wright ♦ Jenison
Junior ♦ Softball

The Wildcats’ ace opened her junior season last week with a 2-0 shutout over Cedar Springs, during which she struck out 19 batters and went over 500 for her career. She followed that up with a 12-2 win over Division 2 No. 2 Vicksburg and also has victories over Caledonia and Holland West Ottawa as Jenison has opened 7-0 and ranked No. 3 in Division 1.

Wright earned all-state honorable mention last season for the second time after pitching the Wildcats to the Division 1 Quarterfinals. She quickly set the tone for her high school career as a freshman, setting the program’s single-season strikeout record that spring. She’s also set up for when her Jenison career is done – she’s committed to continue playing softball at Grand Valley State.

@mhsaasports 🥎POW: Alli Wright #softball #jenison #letsgo #strikeout #part1 #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

@mhsaasports 🥎POW: Alli Wright #tiktalk #questiontime #part2 #swedishfish #chickfila #princessandthefrog #dancemoms #pineappleonpizza #performanceoftheweek #mistudentaid #fyp #MHSAA ♬ original sound - MHSAA

Follow the MHSAA on TikTok.'s "Performance of the Week" features are powered by MI Student Aid, a division within the Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP). MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

Past 2023-24 Honorees

April 11: Chloe Wishart, Trenton soccer - Report
March 28:
Jenna Maki, Ishpeming basketball - Report
March 22:
Jaremiah Palmer, Niles Brandywine basketball - Report
March 15:
Leah Hodge, North Farmington gymnastics - Report
March 8:
Darius Marines, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling - Report
March 1:
Rylee Smith, Zeeland West bowling - Report
Feb. 22:
Caleb Lewandowski, Traverse City West skiing - Report
Feb. 15:
Jadin Mix, Onaway basketball - Report
Feb. 8:
Onalee Wallis, Cadillac skiing - Report
Feb. 1:
Abbey DeGraw, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek competitive cheer - Report
Jan. 25:
Ewan Todd, Riverview swimming - Report
Jan. 18:
Ashley Weller, Jackson Northwest basketball - Report
Jan. 11:
Michael Baldwin, Saginaw Arthur Hill wrestling - Report
Dec. 15:
Jena Fijolek, Fenton bowling - Report
Dec. 8:
Sophia Wagner, Escanaba gymnastics - Report
Dec. 1:
Isaiah Marshall, Southfield Arts & Technology football - Report
Nov. 24:
Sarah Bradley, Clarkston Everest Collegiate volleyball - Report
Nov. 17:
Kalieb Osborne, Waterford Mott football - Report
Nov. 10:
Tekalegn Vlasma, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3:
Colton Kinnie, Birmingham Seaholm football - Report
Oct. 27:
Lauren Timpf, Macomb Lutheran North golf - Report
Oct. 20:
Alena Li, Okemos golf - Report
Oct. 13:
Seth Norder, Grand Haven cross country - Report
Oct. 5:
Paige Anderson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer golf - Report
Sept. 29:
MacKenzie Bisballe, Lake City volleyball - Report
Sept. 22:
Jhace Massey, Gladwin football - Report
Sept. 15:
Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8:
Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1:
Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report

(Photos courtesy of the Wright family.)