Return Trip Ends with Dakota's 1st Title

June 17, 2017

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Macomb Dakota had unfinished business at the Division 1 Softball Final against Grandville on Saturday at Michigan State.

The Cougars lost in last year’s Final, 4-0, to Farmington Hills Mercy while pursuing their first MHSAA title. But they earned another shot this weekend, against a Bulldogs team also looking to win a first championship in program history.

A bases-loaded wild pitch sent Dakota’s Kattie Popko home to score the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning for a 4-3 victory and the Cougars’ redemption.

Ranked No. 1 for most of the season, Dakota finished 36-2.

“We always depend on each other and we always, always, always never give up; that’s something that helped us win today,’’ said Popko, a senior outfielder who had two hits. “As soon as I saw the ball go high, I knew I had to go. Right from her hand it’s an immediate trigger. I had to go for it.

“Last year we knew it was going to be tough going into the state championship game. Farmington Hills Mercy blew their way through the tournament. This year we knew we had to forget about last year. We knew it was going to be even harder this year to make it here. We had to have confidence in ourselves and trust the training we’ve been through.’’

With one out in the eighth, Popko reached base on an error by the third baseman, and Julia Salisbury –  who had driven in the first three Cougars runs and had three hits – singled to put the winning run at second base with pitcher Kendahl Dunford coming to the plate. Dunford singled in front of the rightfielder to load the bases with one out.

Grandville pitcher Ellie Muilenburg struck out the next batter. Dakota’s Arieanna Grammatico was at the plate when the wild pitch got away.

“It was a great game; we went toe-to-toe with the best team in the state,’’ said Grandville coach Troy Ungrey. “I will feel better about it in a couple of hours. I’m proud of the girls. We’ve come a long way. You know you’re going to see great pitching in the state championship game. That being said, I think if they aren’t the top two pitchers in the state they have to be in the top five; both of them. Hats off to (Dunford). We were a little high on the pitch. We were planning to go up in the zone. It just got away.’’ 

Dunford threw all eight innings, striking out 11.

“It’s good to see your hard work pay off,’’ said Dunford. “This is where it gets you; you get a state championship if you keep working hard. Every girl has to have the mentality that you want this, and it comes down to who wants it more. I think we showed that we did.’’

Coach Rick Fontaine said they’d find room in the trophy case for a softball title.

“I said at our banquet that when you’re No. 1 everyone is gunning for you,’’ he said. “You get everybody’s A game every week of the season. After being here last year and losing in the Finals and coming all the way back … to fight all the way through and win is great for the girls, especially for the ones who were on the team last year.’’

Dakota got off to a quick start in the first inning. Corbin Hison singled and made it to second on an error. Olivia Popko singled and Salisbury doubled both home to give the Cougars a 2-0 lead.

It didn’t last long.

Muilenburg singled with one out and Traci Merriman hit a shot that got under the glove of the diving centerfielder. Merriman made it around the bases to tie the game, 2-2.

Grandville kept hitting and got an RBI single from Kalli Gibson to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the third inning. Salisbury drove in her third run with a two-out single to tie the game, 3-3, in the bottom of the third.

It stayed that way as both pitchers, Dunford and Muilenburg, allowed just five hits each and enjoyed good defense behind them.

Dunford had reached double-digit strikeouts by the top of the seventh inning, but Muilenburg kept the Cougars’ bats silent as well. She finished with 10 strikeouts, and both walked only one batter.

Click for the full box score

PHOTOS: (Top) Macomb Dakota's Kattie Popko slides in for the winning run in the Division 1 Final. (Middle) Kendahl Dunford prepares to deliver during her 11-strikeout performance. 

Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best

By Geoff Kimmerly 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.