Savvy Seniors Lead Frankenmuth to Final

June 11, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Senioritis always weighs on a spring coach’s mind. It can drain the potential from the best of MHSAA championship contenders.

Frankenmuth softball coach Brad Walraven discussed that possibility once with his team, which includes seven recent graduates. And then he forgot they ever had the conversation. 

That’s how focused the Eagles have been this spring. And they were thankful for veteran composure Thursday during the final innings of the first Division 2 Semifinal at Secchia Stadium.

Carleton Airport had advanced to Michigan State with an epic extra-inning comeback against Portland in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal, and looked to be mounting another with Frankenmuth up two runs in the sixth inning. But a heads-up play and a clutch strikeout from their ace ended the rally and the only threat faced by the Eagles in a 4-0 win. 

“One little thing can cost you this ballgame when you get to this point. You have to literally focus one pitch at a time … or else you could just blow up,” Frankenmuth senior pitcher Amariah Wright said. “I’m really proud of my team for staying focused all the way through.”

Frankenmuth (37-3-1), ranked No. 10 at the end of the regular season, will face No. 1 Wayland in the Final at 10 a.m. Saturday. Both teams have an MHSAA title to their credit – Wayland’s coming in 2006 and the Eagles’ in 1991. 

Since finishing Division 3 runner-up in 2011, Frankenmuth reached the Regional round both in 2012 and again last season. But both times the Eagles fell shy of returning to the season's final week.

Led this time by a strong senior class including six who start, Frankenmuth built on a league championship with wins over honorable mention Saginaw Swan Valley and No. 6 Escanaba over the last two weeks.

Airport trailed Portland by four runs in the seventh inning of its Tuesday Quarterfinal. The Jets came back to down the Raiders 5-4 with a walk-off double in the eighth inning.

Frankenmuth led by 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth Thursday when Carleton Airport put runners on first and second base with one out. A fly to left field dropped in for another single just in front of senior Alyssa Jarlock. The hit could’ve loaded the bases. 

Instead, Jarlock made perhaps the most astute play of the game. Bypassing the usual toss in to second, she threw to third base and threw out the advancing runner for the second out of the inning.

Wright then struck out the next batter, and the Eagles added a few more runs to put the game away in the seventh.

“That’s what senior leadership does,” said Walraven, a veteran himself of 36 seasons and nearly 1,100 wins to rank as the second-winningest softball coach in MHSAA history. “The one thing you have to worry about with seniors is sometimes they phase out at the end of the year (with) a lot of activities with school. This group stayed focused the whole time, and they talked to the underclassmen. Everybody’s always prepared and ready to play.

“It’s a little bit of the coaches. But it’s mostly on the girls.”

Frankenmuth scored its first two runs in the third inning, with the lone hit of the rally an RBI-single by Wright. Senior Makenzie Sipes, who had reached base on a fielder’s choice, moved to third on the single and scored the second run as part of a double steal that forced a throw to second base and opened up home. 

Senior Kayla Brooks scored in the seventh inning after a single, and Jarlock came around for the fourth run on a ground out after reaching base on an error and stealing second base.

Wright finished with nine strikeouts and walked only one batter. She gave up four hits and only one over the first five innings. Airport junior Emily Bindus also was sharp, giving up only one earned run for the Jets (36-5), striking out nine while giving up only three hits and walking two. 

The win was Frankenmuth’s 12th straight.

“Last year was just kinda like a building year. This year finally the team is just strong. It’s so exciting to watch us just go,” Wright said. “I’ve been wanting this since my freshman year, and now we’re finally here and it’s insane. I love it.” 

Click for the box score.

Wayland 11, St. Clair 0 

Wayland had unfinished work after getting back to the Semifinals last season but falling in 10 innings to Livonia Ladywood. The Wildcats entered this postseason ranked No. 1 in Division 2 as arguably the most impressive team in Michigan this season regardless of division – and only added to that reputation Thursday.

They led 4-0 before St. Clair (23-13) got a chance to bat in the first Semifinal in that school's history. 

Wayland (35-2) added seven more runs in the fifth inning to finish the game for senior pitcher Mallory Teunissen, who struck out more than half the batters she faced – nine of 15 – and allowed only two hits.

“I made sure I said let’s score on the first thing so we don’t have to wait and have stress,” said Teunissen, who also was 2 for 3 at the plate. “My sister Morgan came up and had a hit, and everyone followed, and we scored, and it just made the stress level for everybody and me so much easier.” 

Wayland was playing in its third Semifinal in four seasons. But there was shock and sadness instead of celebration after as coaches and players were told of the death of Bill Merchant, father of assistant coach Nicki Cardosa and brother-in-law to head coach Cheri Ritz, earlier Thursday after an apparent car accident.

Merchant also was Wayland’s junior varsity boys basketball coach. His four daughters all played large roles in the Wayland program – Jessica and Macy appear in the MHSAA record book – and then at the college level, and Jessica, Macy and Brittini coach in the Big Ten. His wife Deb Merchant has coached tennis for Wayland. 

“(I told the players) that we have another angel in the sky, because my dad was killed in a car accident too,” Ritz said. “I was the AD at Wayland, and it was after a basketball game. He was helping me and got in a car accident, so our family has been through this before.

“But we have another angel in the sky.” 

Senior shortstop Hailey Houck had two hits, scored two runs and drove in one for Wayland. Sophomore catcher Leigha Morse also had two hits and three RBI, and senior third baseman Morgan Winger and freshman designated player Sydney Urban both drove in two runs.

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Frankenmuth’s Amariah Wright prepares to unload a pitch during Thursday’s Division 2 Semifinal win. (Middle) A Wayland runner grabs for the plate while being tagged by St. Clair catcher Sydney Griffor.

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)