Performance: Millington's Gabbie Sherman

May 17, 2019

Gabbie Sherman
Millington senior – Softball

The all-state ace struck out the first nine batters she faced and was nearly unhittable as Division 3’s top-ranked Cardinals opened the Escanaba Invitational on May 10 with a 3-0 win over the Eskymos, the reigning MHSAA Division 2 champion. Sherman – who also led her team to a win at Escanaba in 2018 – gave up one hit, didn’t walk a batter and struck out 15 to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

The team’s fulltime starting pitcher the last three seasons, Sherman helped the Cardinals to last year’s Division 3 championship game, a 7-6 defeat to Coloma. She is one of a large and accomplished group of four-year seniors who have led the varsity to four straight league, three District and three Regional championships – the 2016 District title was a program first, and the league crown that spring was the first since 1978. Millington is 23-2 this season and a combined 62-5 over the last two – with all five losses coming by just a run.

Sherman, an all-state first-teamer last season who also earned honorable mention as a sophomore, is 11-2 this spring with a 1.17 ERA and 130 strikeouts in only 72 innings pitched. She’s also hitting .529 with five home runs and 38 RBI. For her career, Sherman is 77-11 pitching with a 1.15 ERA and 780 strikeouts over 493 innings pitched, and has hit .453 with 19 home runs and 185 RBI. Her career batting average and RBI qualify for the MHSAA record book, and she needs just one more home run to also make that all-time list. Sherman has signed to continue her career at Kent State University, where she’ll follow in her mother’s footsteps and study nursing – Gabbie carries a GPA above 4.0 and ranks seventh in her Millington graduating class.

Coach Greg Hudie said: “When her and her freshman classmates came in, they made an immediate impact. With a pitcher, they’re a little bit more sensitive sometimes mentally, and she was able to grow at her own pace with all-stater Taylor Wright taking a little bit of the heat off and teaching her the ropes. And I think that had a huge part in Gabbie's success, just seeing how it's done. She's taken the reins and definitely made her own mold here at Millington and is leaving some big steps to walk in for sure. …  When you’ve got somebody like Gabbie, you'll play the world – and you always think you've got a chance.”

Performance Point: “It was a different type of atmosphere during that game,” Sherman said of the Escanaba matchup. “It felt like playoffs, that type of intensity. They put their (2018 championship) banner up right before they were playing us, and so it just made me want the game more. … Striking out the first nine batters was kinda huge. And me and Sydney (Bishop, her all-state catcher) had a really great game going; she knew what I wanted to throw and we were both locked in. To beat them this year ... just showed we are one of the best teams and that we can play with the best teams out there.”

One team, one goal: “This year for me has just been about getting back (to the Finals) and just winning it. Last year being so close made all of us want it more. So all of us, for the goal in mind, has been to win the championship. I know that's everyone's goal – everyone's like, ‘Let's go to states and win it’ – but for us it's different because we've been there, we've put in all the hard work, we’ve put in all the extra time, so we can make it happen for ourselves.”

Learning to finish it: “I think my mental game is a lot better this year. I can bounce back from things better than last year. The Clarkston game, when I gave up a grand slam, I had to bat next time up, and I didn't just give up. Last year that would happen, and I would take that with me. This year I can set it aside and I can go to the plate and I can worry about that at bat – not about what's already happened. It took a lot of practice over the years. I had to just sit down and realize I can't let one thing affect the others. I have to move on to the next pitch. There's a book called ‘Finished It’ and there was a quote in there, a quote that was, to me, this is what I need to learn. She was talking about looking over at her teammates, and (saying) ‘This one is coming to you. This is the play,’ and the pitcher would take a deep breath and say ‘This pitch, this at bat, don't worry about the next play.’ We have to worry about what's right in front of us.”

Last year’s lessons: “We learned that we all have to push each other. We all play for each other and not ourselves. Our dugout this year has been incredible. When one of us makes a bad play, we’re there for that girl and telling her ‘You have the next one. Don't let it shake you. You’ve got it.’ In the weight room we’ve been pushing each other. At practice we are all pushing each other, helping each other to do better and letting each other know we've got it.”

Let’s win this: “That would be incredible, to bring (a championship) home here. There’s never been a state championship at our school; to bring that here would be incredible because our whole town supports us. When we go out to the playoffs, everyone gets on the streets, everyone has banners and they are all cheering for us. At the state finals game, you could even see it was just full of red. Our town comes with us and supports us every step of the way. To bring that home to them, that would just be huge.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2018-19 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard recognizes a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Past 2018-19 honorees

May 9: Nathan Taylor, Muskegon Mona Shores golf - Read
May 2:
Ally Gaunt, New Baltimore Anchor Bay soccer - Read
April 25:
Kali Heivilin, Three Rivers softball - Read
March 28:
Rickea Jackson, Detroit Edison basketball - Read
March 21:
Noah Wiswary, Hudsonville Unity Christian basketball - Read
March 14:
Cam Peel, Spring Lake swimming - Read
March 7:
Jordan Hamdan, Hudson wrestling - Read
February 28:
Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling - Read
February 21:
Reagan Olli, Gaylord skiing - Read 
February 14:
Jake Stevenson, Traverse City Bay Reps hockey - Read
February 7: Molly Davis, Midland Dow basketball - Read
January 31:
Chris DeRocher, Alpena basketball - Read
January 24:
Imari Blond, Flint Kearsley bowling - Read
January 17: William Dunn, Quincy basketball - Read
November 29:
Dequan Finn, Detroit Martin Luther King football - Read
November 22: Paige Briggs, Lake Orion volleyball - Read
November 15:
Hunter Nowak, Morrice football - Read
November 8:
Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1:
Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25:
Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18:
Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4:
Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Millington's Gabbie Sherman makes her move toward the plate during last season's Division 3 championship game. (Middle) Sherman huddles with her teammates before their next turns at bat. 

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.)