Nadolny Revs Lancers with Record Power

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

April 18, 2019

HARRISON TOWNSHIP – Now that Brooke Nadolny has set the state record for career home runs, the senior from Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse is taking aim at the national record.

Nadolny, 18, entered this season with 54 home runs, one behind 2018 Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard graduate Julia Kennedy. On April 9, Nadolny tied the record in the Lancers’ opener, a 4-2 victory over Warren Cousino. Four days later Nadolny hit No. 56 to break it in an 8-5 victory over Marysville. She added No. 57 during the second game of that doubleheader.

That’s three home runs over the first five games of the season, and she needs 19 more to set the national record. Kasey Flores, a 2018 graduate of Eastlake High in El Paso, Texas, owns that achievement with 75.

At this point, if Nadolny does set the national record it shouldn’t be a surprise. She hit 22 home runs with 57 RBI as a sophomore, and last season drove a state-record 26 with 58 RBI. Lydia Goble, a senior last season at Schoolcraft, also hit 26.

Nadolny is amazed by what’s taken place over the past two-plus seasons. She said she doesn’t try to hit home runs. Her objective is to hit the ball hard – and if it goes over the fence, all the better.

“It was exciting,” she said of setting the state record. “It was never in my mindset setting the state record. We didn’t think I’d get this close. I realize it’s rare for someone to get so many home runs. I can’t believe it’s me, that it’s happening to me.”

We need a look at history to give some perspective on the recent power surge in this sport. The pace at which home runs are being hit is at an all-time high. Prior to 2012 only one player, Melinda Van Gillis of Pentwater, had hit 18 home runs in a season. Since then 11 players have hit 18 or more, and a couple have accomplished this feat twice.

Some coaches and hitting instructors say there are two main reasons for the increase in home run production. One is that more players are taking full swings rather than employing the slap-hitting style many others continue to use. The second is a rule change that took place in 2011 that increased the distance from the pitching rubber to the plate from 40 to 43 feet. But even with that change, it took time for the batters to make an adjustment. 

For her part, Nadolny doesn’t picture herself as a home run hitter – although there have been few in this state who could be considered at her power-hitting level.

She hit only six home runs as the starting second baseman as a freshman but, stepping back, that’s a good showing for a hitter making the transition from middle school softball to a varsity squad playing in Division 1. Nadolny stood 5 feet, 4 inches then, but experienced a growth spurt (adding three inches; she stands 5-7½ now) between her freshman and sophomore year – and her numbers took off.

She’s not had what might be described as formal or specialized training. She’s never had a hitting instructor, and she said she learned the basics while attending a hitting camp at age 6.

“I’m more experienced now,” she said. “I’m stronger. More things are coming together. I can’t pinpoint one thing. It’s everything. I’m kind of self-taught. It’s natural. It’s the naturalness of it. I’ve never changed (my swing). I’ve seen videos of softball players, (but) I really haven’t changed anything.

“I don’t think about hitting a home run. My travel coach (Jim Beard, who is also the head coach at Macomb College) said my swing looks so effortless.”

Perhaps that is the core reason. Hitting a softball just comes naturally for Nadolny. It’s timing. It’s muscle memory.

Lisa Downey, who played softball at Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher, is in her 25th season as the head coach at L’Anse Creuse. She takes no credit for Nadolny’s power surge. Downey said athletes born with that natural ability come around every so often.

“It’s a gift,” Downey said. “She was born with an amazing talent. She has superfast hands. Her hand-eye coordination is excellent. When she hits it, it just takes off.”

Among all of these home runs have been a number of special moments. On May 17 of last season, Nadolny homered in her first two at bats against Fraser and then came to bat with the bases loaded and was intentionally walked. Also during last season, she homered three times in a game twice and twice homered in three consecutive at bats.

Perhaps her most important dinger, as far as her team is concerned, came in the seventh inning of a Division 1 Regional Semifinal matchup last season against Clinton Township Chippewa Valley at Macomb Dakota. The score was tied 2-2, and Nadolny’s homer gave the Lancers a 3-2 victory and a shot at powerful Warren Regina in the Regional Final.

Regina prevailed 12-11, giving Nadolny yet another goal.

“(That loss) was hard,” she said. “It is what it is. I want to help my team get to states.

“It would be awesome if I pass (my personal record) again and get the national record. It’s possible, but I don’t stress myself out about it.”

L’Anse Creuse was 29-8 last season and the Lancers won the Macomb Area Conference Blue title and then moved up to the White this season.

Adding to this scenario, Nadolny has added responsibilities as a senior. This is her second season serving as captain, and she’s moved up to No. 1 in the pitching rotation after being slotted at No. 2 last season behind Sammi Mills (now the starting catcher at Central Michigan University).

Nadolny knows she has to be focused this season, much more than in the past. A volleyball player her first three years of high school, Nadolny opted not to play her senior season to fully commit to softball. She signed with Wayne State University and it’s possible she’ll pitch in college in addition to playing shortstop, her position at L’Anse Creuse when she’s not in the circle. She also may play outfield at the college level.

“I’m glad she signed early,” Downey said. “There’s a lot of pressure on a kid so young. She’ll pitch more (this season), which is even more pressure.

"(Wayne State) is a good fit for her. She’s family-oriented. She wanted to stay close to home. She seems very happy now that it’s out of the way. I only have two seniors, and she’s the one I go to. The good teams are player driven, and she’s our engine.”

So far that ‘engine’ is running in top form this season. Nadolny is off to a terrific start, in the circle and at the plate. She’s 4-0 (her team is 5-0) and batting .611 with those three home runs and eight RBI.    

Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse’s Brooke Nadolny prepares for her turn at bat. (Middle) Nadolny holds up the ball from her record-breaking home run. (Top photo courtesy of C&G Newspapers; bottom courtesy of the Nadolny family.)

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.)