By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Sunglasses on whether it’s sunny or not, fastballs blazing and drop-balls dipping, Decatur senior Erika Southworth is an intimidating foe for those who dare step into the batters box.
But that’s just her on-field persona. When games are done, she talks with opposing players and has become friends with many.
And last week, she couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed under her trademark shades.
On Thursday, Southworth won the 100th game of her career, at home against Gobles. On Saturday, at Climax-Scotts, Southworth recorded her 1,000th strikeout.
“None of my teammates knew until practice the day before. I think it motivated them more,” Southworth said of the 100th win. “At the end of that game, they came over and gave me a hug, and they said, ‘That win was for you. We worked hard for you.’ I got a little emotional.
“Both were a big deal to me. … But the wins mean more, I guess. Striking out a lot of people doesn’t matter if you didn’t win any games. I guess it means I had a pretty good career.”
A three-time all-state selection likely heading for her fourth, Southworth – a Second Half High 5 recipient this week – was going to be remembered regardless of those career milestones. But both cement her name in the MHSAA record book – she’s the 26th pitcher to win 100 games and 34th to strike out 1,000 batters, according to those lists.
This season, she’s 24-3 with a 0.83 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 157 innings pitched – with only eight walks. She’s also leading No. 7-ranked Decatur with a .448 batting average and 34 RBI.
Her career so far has included a Division 4 championship game appearance as a freshman (a 4-0 loss to Unionville-Sebewaing) and two more trips to Quarterfinals. It’s included the increase of pitching distance from 40 to 43 feet, a major adjustment for some that she used to become a better pitcher.
“In the early part of her career, she pitched kind of like a machine. I called the pitch and location, and she would just throw the pitch to the location,” Decatur coach Matt McLouth said. “After the mound went back to 43 feet, the pitches that she would strike out opposing hitters from 40 feet weren’t always striking out hitters from 43 feet. She really learned the art of getting hitters out. She learned that getting her opponent to hit a weak ground ball was just as good as getting a strikeout."
Southworth will take a “refined” repertoire with her this fall to the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The drop-ball is her favorite pitch. But McLouth said her change-up also has improved significantly over the last few seasons, and she’s added a rise ball to match.
The Wolves also will get a sports lifer who understands the value of dedication. Southworth has been part of Decatur’s softball program since joining as a team manager in sixth grade. She spent the first decade of her life running around the wrestling mat at the practices of her father Brian Southworth, who has won 567 matches over 28 seasons as Decatur’s coach in that sport, and also coaches the girls track and field team.
But before Erika leaves town and starts a degree in business, there's some to finish with the Raiders.
Decatur’s 2011 season ended with an 11-0 loss to Breckenridge. The team was relatively young and learned a lot that day about playing in pressure situations. Southworth is ready to pop on the sunglasses and lead her teammates on one more run – and earn a first championship to go with those other milestone numbers.
She’s learned, both on the diamond and the mat, what it will take to make that happen.
“I learned you have to work hard for what you earn. It’s not just given to you,” Southworth said. “Never give up. If you want something, you have to go and get it.”
Click to read more about Southworth's future plans and family ties.
PHOTO: Decatur's Krista Southworth prepares to fire a pitch during last season's Division 4 Quarterfinal against Breckenridge. (Photo couresty of High School Sports Scene.)
Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.
She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.
See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:
Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.
Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.
A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.
Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.
Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.
Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.
Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.
A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.
PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.