Richmond Earns Finals Return, Buchanan 1st Trip to Title Game

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 18, 2021

EAST LANSING – When Richmond senior pitcher Shea VanScoter opened the bottom of the first inning of Friday’s Division 3 Semifinal against Clinton with a leadoff home run to left field, it figured to be enough run support for the way she has been pitching of late.

It wasn’t quite all the support VanScoter needed, but it was close.  

Once again getting it done at the plate and the circle, VanScoter homered and tossed a five-hitter to lead Richmond to a 5-1 win.

The Blue Devils (30-5) advanced to meet Buchanan in Saturday’s Division 3 Final in what will be Richmond’s first title game appearance since it made back-to-back appearances in the Division 2 championship games in 2016 and 2017, winning the first and finishing runner-up the second.

It was actually noteworthy that Clinton scored Friday, given Richmond entered the game having yielded only five runs during the entire MHSAA Tournament and just one over its previous three games. 

“We’ve had several shutouts on our road to get here,” Richmond head coach Howard Stuart said. “We pitch well, we play solid defense and we hit well.” 

After striking out 12 in a Regional championship win over Millington and 14 more in a Quarterfinal win over Shepherd, VanScoter didn’t quite rack up the strikeout total against Clinton, only fanning four.

But VanScoter didn’t walk anyone, nor did she allow Clinton to string hits together, trusting her defense to make plays behind her.   

“They were probably some of the best hitters I’ve faced all year,” VanScoter said. “They hit everything. They got their bat on everything. None of them really swung and missed.”

Two batters after VanScoter’s first-inning homer, Richmond sophomore Piper Clark hit a solo home run of her own to left to give the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead. 

The score remained that way until the bottom of the fifth, when Richmond took a 4-0 lead on a clutch two-run single with two outs by Makayla Revord. Lauren Ziza then followed with an RBI single to make it 5-0 Richmond. 

Clinton cut the lead to 5-1 in the sixth inning on a two-out single by Ava Ormsby, who brought home Liberti Fair after Fair had doubled. 

But that would be all the offense for Clinton, which finished its season 34-8. 

“Our goal was to put the ball in play,” Clinton head coach Kim Phillip said. “VanScoter averages anywhere from 12 to 15 strikeouts a game, and we didn’t want to do that. We really put in the work offensively. I’m proud of my girls for putting the ball in play. That was our goal.”

Click for the full box score.

Buchanan 9, Standish-Sterling 4

After making its first Semifinal appearance since 2006, Buchanan will now return to Secchia Stadium to play in its first championship game.

The Bucks rode a 15-hit attack to a 9-4 win over Standish-Sterling. 

Buchanan softball“Our baseball team was here (playing in Thursday’s Semifinals), so some of our kids came up here and I think that was helpful,” Buchanan head coach Rachel Carlson said. “We got up here early enough, and that calmed our nerves. We got to watch a little ball and settle in. They believe in what they are doing right now.”

Buchanan (36-4) opened the scoring with a big second inning, sending nine hitters to the plate and scoring four runs on five hits to take a 4-0 lead.

Hannah Tompkins and Hannah Herman each had RBI singles, while Kamille Lemon and Brooke Atkinson each brought in runs on fielder’s choice groundouts. 

After Buchanan scored an unearned run in the third inning, Standish-Sterling got on the board in the fourth on an RBI sacrifice fly to right by Many Ahleman to make it 5-1. Buchanan got that run back though in its half of the fourth inning on an RBI single by Hailee Kara that made it 6-1. 

The Bucks added three more runs in the fifth inning on an RBI double by Lemon, an RBI single by Sage Pruett and an RBI sacrifice fly by Atkinson to take a 9-1 lead, but Standish-Sterling answered in the sixth. 

The Panthers plated three of their own to cut Buchanan’s lead to 9-4, with the big hit a two-run single by Kylie Wendel.

However, Buchanan pitcher Sophia Lozmack pitched a scoreless seventh inning to end any hopes of a Panthers rally. 

Kara, Alea Fisher and Camille Lozmack each had three hits to lead Buchanan. 

Standish-Sterling (32-12) was potent offensively as well, with 12 hits, but the Panthers couldn’t generate runs like Buchanan did. 

Karasyn Kraska went 3-for-3 with two runs to lead Standish-Sterling. 

“We don’t give up,” Standish-Sterling head coach Rich Sullivan said. “We were down 9-1 and a lot of teams would’ve quit, but we didn’t. About a month ago, I named them the cardiac kids because they don’t quit. You saw that with how they fought, and I told them I was proud of them.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Richmond’s Shea VanScoter fires a pitch during her team’s Division 3 Semifinal win on Friday. (Middle) Buchanan’s Hailee Kara follows her drive during the Bucks’ victory.

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.)