Regina, Howell Advance with Late Rallies

June 13, 2019

By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – There’s no such thing as ugly when it comes to advancing in the MHSAA softball playoffs.

Warren Regina manufactured the game-winning run in a most unusual way Thursday afternoon against Bay City Western. And the Saddlelites aren’t going to apologize to anyone after their 4-0 victory over the Warriors in a Division 1 Semifinal matchup at Secchia Stadium.

Senior Marisa Muglia led the seventh inning off with a single to get things going for her Saddlelites (29-11). The next batter, sophomore Mia Konyvka, dropped down a sacrifice bunt. Western made the play at first base, but freshman Jenna Holt, courtesy running for Muglia, pressed the issue, rounding second and heading for third. The throw to third base ricocheted off Holt and went into Regina’s dugout. A dead ball was called, allowing Holt to score what would be the winning run.

“To be honest, I’ve done that many times before,” said Holt, who actually overran second base before deciding to just head to third. “I just knew that, with my speed, I could cause chaos. I don’t even know what was going through my head. All I remember is sliding into third and hearing, ‘The ball is dead.’ And I was awarded home.”

Regina head coach Diane Laffey saw the chaos play out in front of her while coaching third base. She was a little nervous, to say the least.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, why did she overrun the base?’” said Laffey, with a smile on her face. “She does it a lot, and we keep reminding her. She played JV most of the season, and they can get away with it on JV. She’s been out a couple times doing it since we’ve brought her up. So I’m like, ‘Jenna, they’re going to throw and get you out.’ Fortunately they threw behind her, and the throw to third got away and we lucked out.”

Muglia pitched a complete-game, two-hitter to pick up the victory for the Saddlelites, who will face Howell in the title game on Saturday. She did not hesitate when asked if it was her best pitching performance of her career.

“Most definitely,” she said. “My riseball and my curveball were major components (for me) today.”

For the first six innings, it was a pitchers’ duel, with Western junior Adaline Ziehmer matching Muglia pitch for pitch. Ziehmer allowed five hits and two earned runs while taking the loss.

Regina added three more runs in the seventh, with sophomore Miranda Nicholas driving in a pair on a slap single down the left field line. Junior Jacqueline Jozefczyk added an RBI single to complete the scoring.

“The girls had a great six and a half innings, and I don’t want to say the wheels fell off, but we’re used to putting runs up on the board,” Western head coach Kris Popp said. “It looks worse than it is, but we just didn’t score. If we could have put some runs on the board right off the bat like we usually do, put some pressure on the other team, and it makes a huge difference in the game.

“(Muglia) did a good job keeping us off balance. She threw well. She was making us hit pitches that we’re not used to swinging at.”

Western finished the season 31-6.

Click for the full box score.

Howell 9, Clarkston 6

Juniors Skye Grant and Molly Carney weren’t about to let a chance to get to the Division 1 championship game get away from their team Thursday night. Each had clutch hits as the Highlanders scored three runs in the top half of the seventh inning to pull out a victory over Clarkston, ensuring their team a spot in Saturday’s final game against Warren Regina.

“The way the whole thing set up in that last inning was that they had the middle of their lineup coming up, and we had the bottom of our lineup coming up,” said Howell head coach Ron Pezzoni, who will see his program play for its first Finals championship. “And Skye, Molly, sometimes your unlikely players come up clutch. Skye has been getting big hits for us all year, some big RBIs. And Molly, we keep putting her out there and she’s getting hits. Those at bats were huge for us.”

With one out and the game tied 6-6, Grant doubled, scoring pinch runner Avery Pruss, giving her team the lead. Carney, the next batter, drilled a base hit to right field, scoring sophomores Maddie Springer and Jane Anderson to give the Highlanders (36-3) some breathing room. Grant and Carney were a combined 0-for-4 heading into those last at bats.

Howell jumped out to a 6-1 lead through its half of the fourth inning. Senior Maddie Gillett, who finished 3-for-4 in the win, had a clutch two-run single in the third to help get things going for the Highlanders. Senior A.J. Militello, sophomore Avery Wolverton and Springer each added two hits in their team’s win.

Pezzoni was still in shock after the game had ended, but he had nothing but respect for the Wolves and the effort they put into the game.

“Clarkston is a great team, as deep as any team around,” Pezzoni said. “We knew, even when we were up 6-1, that it wasn’t going to be easy, that we were going to have to get a lot of tough outs. Fortunately, we did.”

Senior Anna Skvarce, junior Sierra Kersten and sophomore Sam Wycoff all had two hits to lead Clarkston (36-3). Juniors Hannah Cady and Nyah Ansel each scored a pair of runs in their team’s loss.

“I’m just really proud of (my players),” Clarkston head coach Don Peters said. “I told them it was an amazing comeback and shows their grit and determination. I guess we were trying out how to stop them, and they were trying to figure out how to stop us. And they did a little better job.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Warren Regina’s Jenna Holt, right, is greeted after scoring her team’s first run Thursday evening. (Middle) Howell players celebrate during their Semifinal win.

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.)