Regulars Return to D4 Softball Finale

June 12, 2015

By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – With many of the players having graduated that helped lead Kalamazoo Christian to MHSAA Finals the past two seasons, Comets coach Terry Reynolds never expected his young Comets to be back this spring.

That’s exactly where the Comets have arrived, however, earning their third straight trip to the Division 4 Final by defeating Hillman 13-2 in five innings at Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

“At the end of the basketball season, I was wondering what we were going to do this season,” Reynolds said. “This is surreal. I never expected it. On March 9 when the season started, I was not sure of what we had. Now, I’m very proud of these girls.”

Kalamazoo Christian (29-14) will face Unionville-Sebewaing (37-3) in the Final at 3 p.m. Saturday. The Final will be Christian's 11th; it has played in the most championship games in MHSAA softball history.

The Comets didn’t just earn a trip to the title game; they slugged their way to the Final scoring in all four innings, highlighted by a seven-run fourth that blew the game open.

Up 6-0 going into the bottom of the inning, their already-hot bats turned blistering. Kalamazoo Christian reeled off eight straight hits during the inning in putting seven runs on the scoreboard.

The inning began quietly enough when junior Brooklyn Block led off with a bunt single. After a sacrifice bunt by junior McKena Razenberg, the floodgates began to open. Sophomore Monica Locker, one of eight sophomores on the Comets’ roster, doubled to plate Block. Junior shortstop Kara Gjeltema then followed with a RBI single.

One of few veterans who returned this season, Gjeltema has been a hitting standout the past two seasons, and this year entered the Semifinals with a .541 batting average and 66 RBI. Gjeltema added to that total with two hits and three RBI.

“We’ve come together this year as a family,” Gjeltema said. “We work as a family and have all come together.”

A catcher last season, Gjeltema moved to shortstop this spring.

“We had four shortstops in the spring,” Reynolds said. “Kara has a rifle for an arm, and I wanted someone who is fearless and Kara would run through a wall for you.”

Sophomore Aliyah Lemmer followed Gjeltema in the batting order and added a single to keep the fourth inning going. Lemmer also drove in the first two runs of the game for the Comets with a two-run double in the bottom of the first inning.

Along with supplying offense, Lemmer was also Christian’s starting pitcher and in charge of silencing the Hillman bats. Lemmer did just that, as she allowed one base runner during the first four innings before giving up a pair of runs in the fifth.

Lemmer backed up last year’s staff ace Rebekah VanDam and took over the mantle of top thrower for a program long known for producing quality pitchers.

“The first inning I was pretty nervous,” Lemmer said. “Seeing all the fans and everything, I was nervous but then I settled down after getting the first three outs.”

Lemmer allowed three hits and no walks while striking out two over five innings.

Eight of the nine hitters in the Comets starting lineup collected at least one hit, and all but one of the nine scored a run. 

I was up until four in the morning watching tape on Hillman,” Reynolds said. “I told the girls to stay off the high pitch and make her come down. The girls were patient and did that. We had some opportunities, and the girls took advantage of it.

“Nothing will surprise me at this point,” Reynolds added. “The girls say that we are a family and they will keep battling and keep pushing no matter who we play.”

Hillman finished 30-4.    

Click for the box score.

Unionville-Sebewaing 4, Holton 1

Unionville-Sebewaing softball coach Steve Bohn saw Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo on the Michigan State campus Friday morning and was going to ask him what his secret is for winning titles.

With the way USA junior pitcher Nicole Bauer performed, and the way his hitters performed in the clutch, any advice from Izzo wasn’t needed this time as the Patriots handed Holton (37-1) its first and only loss.

Bohn, in his fourth season at Unionville-Sebewaing, has brought the Patriots to the Semifinals the past three years, getting his team into the Division 3 title game the past two years. This spring, playing in Division 4, the Patriots will play on the final day again.     

“We’ve been down here for the fourth time now,” Bohn said. “I saw Tom Izzo earlier and I wanted to ask him how he does it.”

Having a pitcher like Bauer helps. Bauer gave the Patriots an outstanding pitching performance as she scattered four hits and allowed one walk over seven innings. Bauer also struck out 11 Holton hitters. 

The Patriots also had some timely hitting. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Bauer helped her own cause when she reached on a double. Senior Erica Treiber followed with a single that plated pinch runner Lauren Adam with the first run. Senior Madison Zimmer then gave the Patriots some breathing room with an RBI single that scored Treiber.

“We like to score with two outs,” Bauer said. “We go up there thinking we have nothing to lose when we have two outs.” 

The Patriots added another two-out run in the fifth inning when Kayla Gremel hit a two-out double that plated Sara Reinhardt. Unionville-Sebewaing added an insurance run in the sixth inning on an RBI single by Katie Engelhardt. 

“We just hope to execute and get it done tomorrow,” Bohn said.

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Christian first baseman Monica Locker secures a throw just before a Hillman runner crosses the bag Friday. (Middle) A Unionville-Sebewaing hitter drives a pitch during the Patriots' win. 

Game May Change, But Success Continues as Wilson Nears 800 Coaching Wins

By Pam Shebest
Special for

April 16, 2024

SOUTH HAVEN — No dugouts, no outfield fences, $25 bats.

Southwest CorridorThings have come a long way since Wilma Wilson took over the coaching reins at her alma mater 35 years ago.

“When I played, we didn’t have fences, we didn’t have dugouts; we had benches,” the South Haven softball coach said. “If you hit a home run, it had to be an in-the-park home run because there were hardly any parks that had any fences.

“It’s come a long way. Now you go to fields that are turfed. I love it. I’m glad to see the change for the girls and to see more emphasis on them playing and being involved.”

With a 792-406 record over her 35 years coaching the Rams softball team, Wilson is closing in on 800 career wins. Her current record puts her 19th among MHSAA coaches and just 15 victories behind former Monroe coach Vince Rossi’s 807 victories.

The Rams are 2-2 on the young season, but started off with a bang — actually three bangs over the right field fence in a one-run squeaker against Paw Paw on March 26.

Although the team has just 11 players, it is stacked with experience. Nine players saw action last season, and the five seniors have three or four years of varsity time.

Those seniors include twins Kamryn and Taylor Holland.

Against Paw Paw, Kamryn hit her first grand slam, a walk-off homer in a 12-11 win.

The Rams enjoy watching Marlee Wilson’s Broncos this season. “I knew it was going to be close as soon as I saw it,” the third baseman said. “I just kept running and started jumping up and down when I saw it go over.”

She was one of the veterans instrumental in the team’s postseason play last year, as South Haven reached its Division 2 District Final before losing 6-2 to Hamilton.

The Rams are focused on a longer run this year.

“A lot of the girls have been on the same team, and we’ve played together the past three years,” Kamryn said. “We know enough about each other and work good together. Everything clicks.”

Her sister, a shortstop/pitcher, agrees she and her teammates already have solid connections and said Wilson is a big reason.

“I love how much she pushes me,” Taylor Holland said. “She’s always there when you need her. She’ll take you aside if you need anything and always wants us to be our best. I just love that about her, because she loves us on and off the field.”

Wilson does more than work on softball with the players.

“(Last week) I sat down with the girls and had a good heart-to-heart, working through frustrations, trying to help kids maneuver through things in life, whether at school, at home, in the game,” she said. 

“That’s a huge part of coaching and what keeps me in it, knowing I can make a difference helping these kids manage life a little bit.”

Continuing the legacy

One of Wilson’s former players who is still very involved in the sport is her daughter, Marlee Wilson, in her first season as Western Michigan University’s head softball coach.

The Broncos won their 20th game of the season Sunday, making Wilson WMU’s winningest first-year softball coach. 

Wilson, right, joins daughter Marlee to form an accomplished mother-daughter coaching tree. “I coached her when she was small, coached her through high school, coached her in travel ball,” Wilma Wilson said. “She’s a very competitive kid, plays really hard. She has that same love for the game that I do, same drive.”

Marlee Wilson said one important thing she learned from her mom was to make softball fun.

“Practices in high school were always really fun,” she remembered. “It was the best part of the day. I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. (I want to) continue that and also develop the student athletes as people.

“There’s not a huge career in softball like there is in baseball and other sports, so you’re going to play four or five years in college then hopefully be prepared for life after sports, which (Mom) did a really good job with me.”

When she has a chance to talk with high school athletes, Marlee Wilson tells them to have fun and learn the basics of the game.

“That’s huge in high school,” she said. “At the college level, we can tell players who went through really good high school programs or travel programs that have those really good fundamentals or softball IQ.

“(Mom) does a really good job of developing players as a whole so when they get to that level, they understand that part of the game.”

Wilson played softball at WMU from 2014-18 and was a three-time academic all-Mid-American Conference honoree, a 2017 MAC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete and a four-time NFCA All-American Scholar.

Sparking like Sparky

Although Wilma Wilson calls him a “co-coach,” Dave Gumpert considers himself her assistant the last 11 years.

“I respect her many years as being a coach,” he said. “We talk things over, but she makes the final decisions.

“It’s been a really good relationship. She bounces things off me, I bounce things off her. It’s been a good run so far.”

Gumpert, who had a seven-year stint as a major league pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals, is the one who good-naturedly calls Wilson “Sparky” and not because of her sparkling personality.

Myraql McGee settles in under a fly ball. “She pretty much lets me run practice, and she walks around,” he said, smiling. “I played for (Tigers manager) Sparky Anderson and that’s what he did. He walked around the outfield, just talking to people and doing all the PR stuff while all the other coaches were getting the work done. So I like to tease her.”

Equipment has been another area of change during Wilson’s tenure.

“The equipment has gone crazy from the technology of bats,” she said. “A bat back in the day would be $20, $25. Now they’re $400. 

“If take my school budget and buy balls for the season for both our (varsity and JV) teams and a bat, I’ve used two-thirds of my budget.”

But South Haven is making those bats work. Senior centerfielder Myraql McGee said hitting is among the team’s most noticeable improvements from a year ago.

“Our whole lineup is good power hitters. It doesn’t matter where you are, our lineup is pretty stacked,” said McGee, who will continue her career next season at Missouri Valley College.

“Fielding-wise, we could work on a couple things, but we don’t make as many errors at routine plays as many other teams.”

Other seniors are Sam Beeney and Kayley Gorham, and juniors are Madi Dotson, Grace Strebeck and Molly Verseput. Sophomores are Addison Dekoning and Erin Bos, and they are joined by freshman Ly’Nique Cunningham.

Gumpert was with Wilson when the Rams reached but lost in the Division 2 Final in 2018 and sees some similarities between that and this year’s team.

“Offensively, we had a good team, but I would dare to say this team is as good offensively as that team was,” he said. “It’s going to boil down to how well our pitching does, how well our pitchers progress. If we have the pitching I think we can develop into, I think we’ll be competitive with anybody.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) South Haven softball coach Wilma Wilson, right, welcomes home Kamryn Holland after Holland’s grand slam March 26. (2) The Rams enjoy watching Marlee Wilson’s Western Michigan Broncos this season. (2) Wilson, right, joins daughter Marlee to form an accomplished mother-daughter coaching tree. (4) South Haven senior Myraql McGee settles in under a fly ball. (Top and WMU photos provided by Wilma Wilson, family photo by Pam Shebest, and McGee action photo provided by McGee.)