South Haven Building on Memorable Run

By Pam Shebest
Special for

April 23, 2019

SOUTH HAVEN — When A.J. Jeffries injured her shoulder during basketball season, she was devastated, afraid that she would be watching her teammates instead of playing this softball season.

But the South Haven junior catcher opted for physical therapy instead of surgery and, although she missed tryouts in March, she was ready to take her place behind the plate for the Rams after spring break.

Senior Olivia Ellis, who goes by “Gracie,” did miss the first day of tryouts, but not because of injury.

The reigning Miss Bangor competed in, and won, the Miss Blossomtime pageant, quite a different experience than suiting up for a softball game.

Instead of wearing spikes for tryouts on March 11, Ellis was wearing dress shoes and walking across a stage.

“Being an athlete, I had to buy heels and I did horrible (walking in them),” she said, laughing. “I never wore heels before, and they hurt my feet.

“I didn’t know how to do makeup. It was bad.”

Coach Wilma Wilson said she knew Ellis planned to compete in the pageant.

“I actually have Miss South Haven (junior Liz Johnson) on my team as well,” Wilson said. “It’s one of those things where the kids who are usually good at a lot of things, do a lot of things.

“You have to try to be flexible. It can hurt. We missed her at our tournament (a week ago), but I also know that is going to be a great experience as well in the whole scheme of life.”

Wilson looks at sports as well as preparation for life, and South Haven softball has been living well over the last 10 months.

The Rams are the reigning Division 2 runners-up, making last season’s MHSAA Finals championship game – their first since 1979 – after finishing just third in their league. South Haven is off to a 5-3 start this spring, with five starters returning from that run including Jeffries and Ellis – although the team lost its entire infield to graduation and almost lost its catcher for this season.

Jeffries, who has played on the varsity team all three years, injured her labrum in the Rams’ first basketball scrimmage in December. The original diagnosis called for surgery.

“I was on vacation in Hawaii and she called me, bawling her eyes out,” Wilson said.

“I could hardly understand what she was saying because she said ‘I’m not going to be able to play this year. I have to have surgery, and I’m not going to be good.”

Wilson recommended a second opinion, which suggested physical therapy. Jeffries opted for that and finally was cleared to play after spring break.

“During a team meeting, she said she will not let one minute be taken for granted because basically when you think the opportunity is going to be taken away from you, then you can appreciate the opportunity so much more,” Wilson said of Jeffries.

“AJ is that dirty, gritty, sparkplug catcher,” she added. “If you watch her play, it’s joyful because she plays the game hard, like it should be.”

Still, Jeffries was surprised at the team’s run last year.

“I had no idea we’d be in the state finals (for the first time since 1979),” she said. “It was just an unexpected thing, but we just played game by game and took everything that we learned from each game and applied it to the next.

“This year, I expect to play every game like it’s our last game for our seniors and for everybody that came up because I think we can do really good things this year.”

Ellis, who is headed to Manchester College in the fall to play softball, is one of those seniors.

“My advice to the girls coming up is give it your all because in two months or so, I’m going to be done with high school and softball,” said the second baseman, who played left field a year ago. “I know I’m going to regret not putting in as much effort as I could have.

“We actually lost five from last year and three of them were starters pretty much since freshman year, so we lost a lot. We’re all, especially the returners, itching to be just as good as we were last year.”

Wilson said Ellis has grown a lot over the last four years.

“She’s one of those quiet freshmen who came up and didn’t play a lot those first couple years and then this year, she’s been a great leader on our infield and is very vocal in a positive way but (by) also letting the kids know when they have to step it up a little bit,” she said.

Joining Jeffries and Ellis among returning starters are junior Torie Loikits – who earned all-state honorable mention last season – junior Holli Dannenberg and sophomore Jordyn Holland. Holland led off and played center field in last season’s championship game against Escanaba, and Dannenberg played right field. Holland also hit the eighth-inning home run that pushed South Haven past top-ranked Stevensville Lakeshore in last season’s Regional Final.

Other seniors on this year’s team are Grace Lyons, Paeton Hayes, Jules Stuckum, Macy Jenks and Courtney Kelly. Juniors also include Mallory Dorow and Opal Eddy, and sophomore Lexi Young is another contributor.

While Wilson is listed as the head coach, “there are really three of us who are co-coaches,” she said.

Dave Gumpert pitched professionally with the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals from 1982-87. Mike Sweet has “coached softball for a long time and has been a head coach in different sports,” Wilson said.

All three coaches played sports at the high school and all three are members of the South Haven High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

“I think the three of us each bring something different to the program, but it helps us be cohesive and look at the game from different angles,” said Wilson, who was on the Rams team that lost in the Class B Semifinals in 1982, her senior year.

“Between the three of us, we bring a ton of experience.”

Wilson not only coaches, but also drives the bus to away games, “which is really nice because we have that time together with no interruptions with another team or a boys team,” she said. “When we do our ‘remember whens’ at the end of the year, almost all of our memories come from our time on the little bus.”

As noted above, Wilson looks at sports as a preparation for life. And South Haven sees this spring as another chance to build on last season’s dream run and the lessons learned along the way.

“One of my perspectives is that you’re probably going to end up involved in your life the same way you are involved in sports,” she said.

“You’re going to have to learn to get along with people, you’re going to have to learn to have some self-judgment, you’re going to have to make adjustments, you’re going to have to try to improve on things that you don’t do well in.”

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) South Haven catcher A.J. Jeffries fires the ball after a strikeout during last season’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Gracie Ellis is crowned Miss Blossomtime last month. (Below) From left, South Haven coach Wilma Wilson, Ellis and Jeffries. (Middle photo by Don Campbell/St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.)

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.