Powerful Kennedy Surges Into HR Chase
May 25, 2018
By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
ANN ARBOR – Julia Kennedy isn’t worried about whether or not she finishes as the all-time home run leader in Michigan prep softball history. While it’s been a lot of fun chasing the top rung on the ladder, Kennedy has tried not to focus on hitting the long ball.
There’s no better example of that reality when, in a game earlier this season, Kennedy, a senior first baseman for Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard, took a look at the defense and noticed the first baseman and third basemen playing almost on the outfield grass – figuring she was going to pound the ball. She laid down a bunt instead.
“I try and be a leader,” Kennedy said. “The defense was playing me so far back. I just went up there thinking I needed to advance the runner. I wanted to show everybody that I could put the bunt down. I think people were shocked, even my coach.”
The runner did move up a base, but Kennedy found herself in a bit of hot water with her coach, Nicole Lenhoff.
“We were playing Cabrini, and we were down a run,” Lenhoff said. “I had been telling the girls that if you have the opportunity and they are playing deep, you have to lay the bunt down once in a while to keep them off guard.
“When she did it, I think I yelled at her. We had a talk later about the situation and her being a power hitter, and I told her not to do that in that situation again. But, that’s who she is. She is all about the team.”
Kennedy, 18, has already committed to playing college softball at Miami of Ohio. Heading into this weekend, she has 50 career home runs, putting her in a tight chase with Muskegon Mona Shores’ Taylor Dew, who reached 50 on May 16. Both girls have passed the co-record holders in Michigan career prep softball home runs heading into this season – Erika Underwood of Addison (2012-15) and Taylor Johnson from Belding (2007-10), who both hit 49. Underwood is currently playing for Central Michigan and is likely to play against Kennedy next season in Mid-American Conference play.
Kennedy said she’s always been a power hitter.
“Even when I was young, I could hit the ball pretty far,” she said.
It was when she started working with hitting coach Amanda Chidester, a former Cabrini star and college All-American, that she saw her power turn line drives and fly balls into fence-clearing home runs.
“It was insane how much better I became at hitting,” she said. “I made some adjustments in my swing and with my legs. I had no idea what I was doing. I became much more consistent in hitting. It took some time to put it all together.”
Kennedy hit seven home runs as a freshman, slugged 18 as a sophomore and had eight as a junior. She has 17 so far this season.
As a junior Kennedy played two sports in the spring, juggling soccer and softball. She’s focused on softball this year and that has made her a better player on the diamond, her coach said.
“She doesn’t like me saying so, but I think it has made her better,” Lenhoff said. “She’s more focused. There were times where she would be heading to a soccer game or coming from practice right to softball. She was just a little distracted. She’s always had the ability.”
Kennedy bats second in the Fighting Irish lineup, a move that Lenhoff made last year in an effort to get the slugger more at-bats and to help prevent the opposition from just pitching around her. With the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters coming up after her, it makes it more difficult for a team to intentionally walk Kennedy, Lenhoff said.
Kennedy is fine with taking a walk if it helps the team. But she also has more than 40 RBI and hits for a high average.
“I try not to think about the home runs or hitting a home run,” she said. “When I think about it, that’s when it seems I don’t hit as well. When I’m up to bat, I’m just thinking about advancing the runner or getting on base or just making contact.”
Julia is the daughter of David and Julianne Kennedy. Her father was a softball umpire when she was younger, and one of her brothers played baseball. She picked up his sport, mainly playing baseball at first.
“I didn’t play softball until I was like 10,” she said. “I learned to play by playing baseball.”
When she does make contact, and she knows the ball will be sailing over the outfield fence, Kennedy admits she gets a special feeling in her stomach.
“Oh, it is such an adrenaline rush,” she said. “The feeling when you hit that sweet spot with the bat is unbelievable. I just love it.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) All eyes are on a drive by Gabriel Richard’s Julia Kennedy this season. (Middle) Kennedy puts a charge into another swing this spring. (Photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard softball program.)
Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
January 4, 2023
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.