Richmond, Ida Earn Saturday Return

June 15, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Even reigning champions get a little nervous returning to the diamond of their greatest accomplishment.

But it took Richmond only a couple innings to get comfortable again at Secchia Stadium while kicking off Thursday’s Division 2 Semifinals.

The Blue Devils, ranked No. 2 at the end of the regular season and expected to reach this point all season after emerging to win their first title a year ago, will get a chance to play for another thanks to a 4-2 win over No. 3 Escanaba – last year’s Semifinal opponent as well.

Richmond had won its last three games all in extra innings, but put up four runs during the third Thursday. Escanaba rallied for two runs in the fifth inning before sophomore pitcher Erin Shuboy – the star of last season’s championship run – finished locking down the Eskymos for the second year in a row.

“Making it here once is something special. And now to be here twice … I think the returners got rid of the jitters a little bit, (and) all of the other people are starting to settle in,” Richmond senior shortstop Carley Barjaktarovich said. “They score a couple of runs (and you tell yourself) relax, you’ve got a little bit of cushion. You’ve got another at bat. I wasn’t nervous at all. I know Erin; she’s going to bear down and she’s going to get it done. And we go back in and we have our bats.”

Richmond (33-4) will face Ida (36-7) in Saturday’s first championship game, at 10 a.m.

A year ago, the Blue Devils entered the tournament as honorable mentions in the final state rankings, but reached MSU and downed Escanaba 6-2 in a Semifinal.

The teams should have recognized a number of faces in the opposing dugout. Longtime Richmond coach Howard Stuart also caught up with Saginaw Swan Valley’s Tom Kennelly, whose top-ranked Vikings were downed by Escanaba in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal, and felt as prepared as possible heading into the rematch.

Richmond got to Eskymos senior starting pitcher Katie Ross only in the third inning, and freshman Gabbi Salo threw three scoreless to finish the game. But that one frame was enough. A walk, infield single by Barjaktarovich and error loaded the bases, and after a fielder’s choice knocked in the first run junior catcher Evelyn Swantek doubled in the next three.

Escanaba scored its two runs in the fifth inning and loaded the bases again with two outs. But Shuboy got a pop out to end that rally and allowed only one hit in each of the final two innings.

“I felt sorry for (Escanaba), because I thought that was a great team,” Stuart said. “We just had one good inning. We had one key hit, and that’s all it took.”

Barjaktarovich finished 2 for 3, and junior leftfielder Emma Caperton also had a double. Shuboy struck out seven and gave up four hits.

Sophomore rightfielder Lexi Chaillier and senior centerfielder Emily Bruntjens drove in runs for Escanaba (33-5). Junior Maddie Griffin walked twice and scored. 

Click for the full box score

Ida 3, Stevensville Lakeshore 2

How did it feel for unranked Ida to down No. 6 Lakeshore in its first Semifinal since 2006, to make its first MHSAA Final in softball since that spring more than a decade ago?

“This is what you play for. This is what they started out wanting when they were kids. Look at their parents – they wanted the same thing, and here we are,” Ida coach Dawn Forter said, pointing out an enthusiastic bunch waiting to greet the team. “I’m numb. I’m proud of every one of those kids, all 15.”

The Bluestreaks came back after Lakeshore jumped in with a run in the first inning, scoring one in the fourth and two in the fifth, and then withstood a last-inning Lancers rally to close out the victory.

Lakeshore scored that run when junior leftfielder Karlee Lambert misplayed a single by senior Olivia Freehling. But Lambert certainly made up for the brief miscue with a pair of triples, the second setting up her score on junior Hannah Tuller’s triple.  Tuller kept going and scored on a throwing error to take the advantage up to 3-1.

“That’s a hard-hit ball and the field plays fast, and it got to (Lambert) a little quicker than she thought it was going to. She stuck with it though – she knocked it down,” Forter said of Freehling’s hit. “That’s the way every kid wearing a Bluestreak shirt has been all year. If they make a mistake on one side, they pick it up on the other.”

Ida’s first run came when senior Mallorie Duvall drove in senior Brooklyn Woelmer in the fourth inning. Woelmer, Lambert and Duvall all were 2 for 3 at the plate, and junior Lauren Kreps gave up only one earned run throwing all seven innings.

Junior third baseman Cassidy Zavoral and freshman designated player Sierra Ciesielski were 1 for 3 and scored for the Lancers (33-7-1). Junior Taylor Simon struck out four allowing only two earned runs while tossing a complete game.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Richmond pitcher Erin Shuboy prepares to fire during Thursday's Division 2 Semifinal win over Escanaba. (Middle) Ida's Karlee Lambert gets to third base ahead of a tag after hitting one of her two triples Thursday. 

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.)