One Week, Multiple Milestones

May 23, 2012

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.)

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.)