Standish-Sterling, Whiteford Aces Set for Season-Finale Face-Off

By Tom Kendra
Special for

June 16, 2023

EAST LANSING – The final game of the 2023 MHSAA Softball Tournament has the makings of a pitchers’ duel for the ages.

Standish-Sterling senior Devri Jennings and Ottawa Lake Whiteford junior Unity Nelson were equally dominant in Friday evening’s Division 3 Semifinals at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium, setting the stage for a Saturday night showdown.

“Two great pitchers are going to duel tomorrow, that’s for sure,” said fourth-year Whiteford coach Matt VanBrandt. “But at the same time, both teams can hit the ball. So it should be very interesting.”

In the first game, Jennings stymied a Ravenna offense that already had earned several entries in the state’s record book, limiting the Bulldogs to three singles in a 10-1 win.

Nelson was even more impressive in the second D3 Semifinal, keeping her perfect record and minuscule ERA intact with a two-hitter in an 8-0 win over Laingsburg.

Standish-Sterling (37-7) will be shooting for its first softball state championship, while Whiteford (37-4) will be looking for its first since 1987 when they meet at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

In addition to outstanding pitching, both teams also got their bats operating late in Friday’s semis.

All eyes are on the next pitch as the Bobcats rally against Laingsburg.Whiteford, which lost in the Division 4 Final last year and hasn’t missed a beat in a larger-school division, gradually pulled away from Laingsburg – scoring three runs in the third inning, three more in the fifth and capping the scoring with two runs in the sixth.

Junior Kaydence Sheldon led the way for the Bobcats, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Patrina Marsh ripped two hits and two RBIs and Karlei Conard also knocked in two runs.

That was more than enough offensive production behind Nelson, who kept her perfect season record intact at 23-0. She also boasts a scant 0.53 ERA and added 11 strikeouts Friday, bringing her season total to 305, which is more than two strikeouts for every inning pitched.

“I definitely came in with my A game today,” said Nelson. “My screwball was my go-to pitch, and I was hitting it on the inside corner.”

Laingsburg (36-7), which had a breakthrough season this spring by winning its first Regional title since 1978, received hits from Ashley Bila and Addyson Buchin. Buchin went the distance and took the loss, allowing just two earned runs.

Whiteford, which knocked off No. 2-ranked Algonac in the Quarterfinals, has won three softball state titles. The Bobcats have finished runner-up four times since the 1987 championship run.

VanBrandt said his players were excited when they learned they would be moving up to D3 this season.

“A lot of our players were excited for the challenge – that’s the way these girls are,” said VanBrandt. “We got to see some new teams, and we stepped up to the challenge.”

Click for the box score.

Standish-Sterling 10, Ravenna 1

Ravenna came into the Semifinals boasting eye-popping offensive numbers, but the Bulldogs bombers met their match in Jennings.

She set the tone from the start, striking out five of the first six batters she faced as her team seized control.

“We have worked so hard since winter, and it feels great to be here and to show everyone what we’ve got,” said Jennings, who tossed a three-hitter with no walks and seven strikeouts to completely shut down the Ravenna machine. She improved her season record to 26-2.

Standish-Sterling’s Devri Jennings winds up during her team’s Semifinal win. Instead, it was the Panthers’ offense which applied steady pressure up and down the batting order to build a 5-0 lead after five innings, then put the game away with five runs in the bottom of the sixth.

Senior Lexi Mielke went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and Addi Fetters and Jennings both went 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Macy Fegan added two hits, and Sami Kopasz knocked in two runs.

The Panthers (37-7), who knocked off No. 1-ranked Evart during Regionals and then No. 5 Gladstone in the Quarterfinals, were in the Semifinals for the third time in the past four years. They now will play in the softball championship game for the first time in school history.

“We worked really hard on how we were going to pitch those batters,” explained ninth-year Standish-Sterling coach Rich Sullivan. “Devri Jennings was awesome. She hit her spots, and she was able to do what we needed her to do to stop that offense.”

Ravenna (36-6), in the Semifinals for the first time since 2005, scored its lone run in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by senior Emma Gillard, who was the starting pitcher.

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Whiteford's Alyssa VanBrandt cranks a pitch during her team's Semifinal win Friday.(Middle) All eyes are on the next pitch as the Bobcats rally against Laingsburg. (Below) Standish-Sterling’s Devri Jennings winds up during her team’s Semifinal win. (Photos by Adam Sheehan/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)