Millington Finishes Championship Run with 2nd-Straight Walk-Off Win

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

June 18, 2022

EAST LANSING – Dylan Holmes arrived at second base and crumbled to her knees as her teammate, Trinity Fessler, crossed the plate.

In a matter of an inning, the Millington senior’s emotions went from devastation to jubilation.

Holmes delivered a walk-off double as the Cardinals defeated Evart 3-2 in eight innings in a thrilling Division 3 Final at Secchia Stadium.

It was the second straight walk-off victory for Millington, which defeated Algonac in the Semifinal on Friday by scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

“We’ve worked for this since we were 8 years old,” Holmes said. “It’s awesome to finally have it pay off. When I got to second base, I was just shook. It was over, and we did it. We won a state championship.”

Holmes, a shortstop, made a crucial error with two outs in the top of the seventh inning that allowed Evart to score the game-tying run and send it to extra innings.

She quickly made amends with the big knock that gave Millington its second Division 3 title over the last four years.

Millington/Evart softball“It was a great feeling to know that even though I did make those errors that my team was behind me cheering me on,” Holmes said. “It was awesome to do that for my team, and I went up there knowing that I needed to get a base hit for my team and advance the runner.”

Fessler, a senior, led off the inning with a single and scored from first base on Holmes’ key hit.

“I was sending her no matter what, and I didn’t care where the ball was,” Cardinals coach Greg Hudie said. “Trinity is the fastest girl on the team, and it was a chance I was willing to take.  I was going to make them make a great throw.

“Dylan had two costly errors, and I’m very grateful that she was able to come through and help the team out in a positive way and win the game.”

Senior Ashley Ziel picked up the win after striking out nine in eight innings of work.

“This just means everything,” said Ziel, who also had two hits. “Two straight walkoffs on two separate days just shows the grit and determination of our team and how we pulled it together and got the win today.”

Ziel was one of Holmes’ biggest supporters.

“She had a tough go in the field, but I told her, ‘You're going to get this right now,’ and she did,” Ziel said. “She hit that base hit and saved the day.”

Millington won despite committing an uncharacteristic five errors. 

“Obviously, not our best game,” Hudie said. “I don’t think we had a game this year where we had three or more errors, so we didn’t play clean ball. But we played together and finished it out somehow.” 

Millington struck first in the bottom of the third inning when Kendall Payne scored on a sacrifice fly from Lilia Sherman.

Evart tied it in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly and throwing error that scored Brooklyn Decker, who walked to open the inning.

Fessler singled to open the sixth inning and then scored the go-ahead run on a double by senior Emma Dickie.

Evart rallied to tie it in a wild top of the seventh inning.

“They just worked their tails off and persevered,” said Wildcats coach Amanda Brown, whose team was searching for its first Finals title. 

“We were down, then we were tied and it was amazing. They kept their grit, and they did a great job. I'm really proud of them, and it was a fun game to watch. It was competitive, and that's all you can ask for.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Millington catcher Trinity Fessler puts the tag on Evart’s Calli Duncan during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Ashley Ziel fires a pitch for the Cardinals.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)