Powerful Pitching Sends Owosso, Marysville to Saturday

By Jason Schmitt
Special for MHSAA.com

June 17, 2021

EAST LANSING — Something had to give Thursday morning.

And if Macy Irelan had anything to do about it, it wasn’t going to be her and her Owosso teammates.

Irelan threw seven stellar innings, striking out eight while allowing just a single run in the Trojans’ 2-1 victory over Gaylord in a Division 2 Semifinal at Secchia Field in East Lansing.

Prior to this season, the Trojans had never made it past a Regional. Now head coach JoEllen Smith’s team is a win away from the program’s first-ever Finals championship.

“Everything beyond Regionals is a first, first, first for us, and the girls are handling it unreal,” said Smith, who’s in her 38th year leading the program. “The girls are coming in upbeat, not nervous. Today we came in and knew we were facing a younger team, and we had to show them that we’re not nervous.”

In fact, it was Smith’s game plan to put all the pressure on the Blue Devils, who were also attempting to reach their first trip to the Final. Owosso did just that, scoring a pair of runs in the second inning.

Sophomore Jamie Maier and senior Karley Kincaid opened the inning with back-to-back singles. After a sacrifice bunt from junior Kendall Anderson moved the runners to second and third base, Maier scored on a wild pitch to make it 1-0. Sophomore Sydney Somers then had an RBI single, scoring sophomore Brielle Sovis who was on as a courtesy runner.

“We don’t usually score early. It usually takes us two, three times through the lineup,” Smith said. “That was huge for us to get those two runs.”

They proved to be more than enough for Irelan, who didn’t allow a base runner until the fourth inning and a hit until the fifth. The junior, who has committed to Kent State University, allowed just three hits while improving to 35-3 on the season.

The only run she allowed came in the seventh inning, when the Blue Devils had the game-tying runs on base with just one out. Kincaid, the Trojans’ catcher, threw out a runner at second base for the second out. Freshman Braleigh Miller scored on the play to make it a 2-1 game.

“The run didn’t mean anything,” Smith said. “We throw through, get the out and there’s two outs with nobody on. We don’t run that play too often. Karley doesn’t throw much, so that (play) is bigger than you think.”

Gaylord had also put two runners on in the sixth inning, but Irelan pitched her way out of trouble. Blue Devils freshman Avery Parker’s one-out bloop single got things going for her team. A two-out fielder’s choice error gave Gaylord runners on first and second base. But the threat came to an end when Owosso’s Reese Thayer pulled in a deep fly to left field.

“When I get a runner on, I get up. I’m more focused,” Irelan said. “I want to get the batter out. And I know the girls behind me will make the play. In pressure situations, I work hard for my team because I know they’re working hard for me. I don’t want to let them down.”

Somers finished with a pair of hits to lead Owosso (36-3), who will now face Marysville (30-6) in Saturday’s Division 2 Final. Senior Reyn Tuttle and freshman Lexi Hemker also had two hits each in their team’s win.

The future looks bright for Gaylord, which had six freshmen in its starting lineup. That group includes the pitching duo of Avery Parker and Jayden Jones, who each had earned-run averages under one and combined for a 28-2 record this season. The pair allowed just two runs while scattering nine Owosso hits. Parker and fellow freshmen Addison Wangler and Taylor Moeggenberg collected Gaylord’s hits in the loss.

“It was a great performance for seven innings, but the jitters showed up in the second inning,” Gaylord head coach Abe Cruz said. “We fought, we fought and we fought but we just couldn’t manufacture that run until the last inning. They were there for us, we just came up one short.”

The Blue Devils have no seniors on the roster and 11 of the 15 players are just freshmen and sophomores.

“We’re looking forward to coming back already,” said Cruz, whose team finished the season 41-2. “There’s going to be more years to come, where this stage isn’t as big as it was today. We’ll get used to it. They’ll grow with maturity and be ready to come back next year.”

Click for the full box score.

Marysville 7, Chelsea 1

Marysville entered the Division 2 Semifinals as the only unranked team left in the MHSAA Tournament. But the Vikings put forth a brilliant display in all three phases of the game against eighth-ranked Chelsea and earned a spot in the Final.

Marysville softballAided by a five-run third inning, senior pitcher Kirsten Smith pitched a complete game, three-hitter to help her team reach its first title game since 1991. Smith struck out 11 while walking just a single batter.

“She’s got the heart of a champion inside her,” Marysville head coach Ryan Rathje said. “She’s not afraid of challenging hitters. She works nice and fast, and our defense is ready behind her. When they did put the ball in play, our defense did a great job backing her up.”

The Vikings scored one run in both the first and fourth innings, but it was a five-run outburst in the third that broke the game wide open. They had six hits in the inning, including RBI singles by senior Calle Perrin, juniors Kaitlyn Cain and Anna Oles and an RBI double by freshman Avery Wolters. Marysville stretched its lead to 6-1 and never looked back.

“The difference was that five-run inning,” Chelsea head coach Jeff Connelly said. “They did a great job. They put the ball in play, and their pitcher did a fabulous job of keeping us off balance all day. The shots we did hit, they were always right at people.”

Junior Kate Westmiller had three hits and Wolters and Perrin each had two to lead Marysville (31-6), which will face Owosso at 10 a.m. Rathje said he’s excited to have an opportunity to face the Trojans, but knows it’ll be a challenge for his team to face Owosso’s Irelan in the circle.

“Their pitcher is terrific,” Rathje said. “From everything I saw, they’re a really solid team at the plate, with a dominant pitcher and a great defense. We’re definitely looking forward to that matchup. You’ve got to be able to play all three phases of the game. We’re definitely looking forward to the challenge.”

Chelsea finished with a 37-5 record. Junior Margaret Olaveson collected a pair of hits to lead the offense.

“Our kids didn’t quit. We had one rough inning, or it’s a different game,” Connelly said. “We came in with the attitude that the girls have done as much in our community as we’ve done in 15 years. It was kind of our goal to get the program back, and the kids did it.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Owosso’s Macy Irelan winds up during her team’s Division 2 Semifinal win over Gaylord on Thursday. (Middle) Marysville’s Emma Curtis enjoys a moment during her team’s Semifinal victory.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)