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.
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.
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023