Swan Valley Focuses on Finish

June 14, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

BATTLE CREEK — If Saginaw Swan Valley’s softball players were feeling good about themselves for reaching a second straight MHSAA championship game, the warm fuzzies quickly vanished once coach Tom Kennelly was done talking to them.

“You’re better than this!” he yelled during the team’s postgame huddle following a 5-2 Division 2 Semifinal victory over Linden on Friday at Bailey Park. “You’re not satisfied to be down here!”

Later, Kennelly spelled out “D-E-B-A-C-L-E” to describe his team’s temporary meltdown early in the game.

The message was driven home: Swan Valley shouldn’t be content just to be playing on the season’s final day, even with a young team that may get another crack next season.

The Vikings got this far last season, losing 4-0 to Livonia Ladywood in the championship game. They’ve done that on two other occasions since winning their only MHSAA crown in 1986.

“You don’t need great plays, for crying out loud, but you can’t let singles go for doubles and triples,” Kennelly said. “Mr. Sunshine, that’s what they call me.”

After taking a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning, Swan Valley had two outfield errors and a walk that led to two Linden runs in the second.

The damage was minimized when junior pitcher Courtney Reinhold stranded Linden’s Alyssa Logie on third base. Logie reached third with no outs, but Reinhold induced a ground out to drawn-in third baseman Aspin Stack and struck out the next two batters.

“She’s done that in crucial situations,” Kennelly said. “I don’t know how many times she’s stranded people at third with nobody out.”

After that shaky second inning, Reinhold shut down the Eagles over the final five innings. Linden had only three more base runners, none past second base.

“I knew what I did wrong,” Reinhold said. “Pitching a girl on 0-2 something down the middle was obviously not very smart. I just cleaned up my spots and focused on what Paige (Churchfield) called back there.”

Swan Valley was the beneficiary of sloppy play by Linden in a pivotal third inning.

Three walks, two wild pitches and a hit batter led to a three-run outburst by the seventh-ranked Vikings (31-9).

Kelli Halvin and Reegan Flattery scored on wild pitches before Morgan Stadler drove in the final run of the inning with a double.

While Swan Valley is a regular participant in Battle Creek, reaching the MHSAA Semifinals is a rare treat for Linden (31-5). This is only the fourth Linden team in any sport to play in a Semifinal game, and the first girls team since the 1981 volleyball squad. The softball team hadn’t won a Regional before this season.

“It was a goal,” Linden coach Gordon Jamison said. “You always want to have high goals and expectations. I didn’t know we were going to do it. I’ve only been here four years, so it came fairly quick. It was a good group of girls, and they played together a lot.”

Swan Valley will play in the Division 2 final against unranked Tecumseh, a surprising 8-0 winner over second-ranked Ladywood. The title game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Bailey Park.

Tecumseh 8, Livonia Ladywood 0

Senior Emily Maves shut down reigning champion Ladywood (32-10), allowing only four hits and no walks while striking out 10.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Maves said. “I never thought we’d make it this far. I don’t think a lot of people thought we’d make it. We’re the underdogs.”

The Indians (32-5-3) got the only runs they would need on a three-run triple by senior Kylie Hill in the third inning. After taking a 4-0 lead in the fifth, Tecumseh broke open the game when a three-run homer by Kelsey Rendell highlighted a four-run sixth.

“That three-run triple was extremely huge,” Tecumseh coach Jeff Nowak said. “It took a little pressure off of Emily, and the kids kind of cruised from there.”

Click for full box scores.

PHOTOS: (Top) Swan Valley pitcher Courtney Reinhold warms up Friday on the way to beating Linden 5-2. (Middle) Tecumseh second baseman Claire Burnett tosses to first base during her team's Semifinal win over Ladywood. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Bedford Sophomore Powers Up with 23 Homers, Just Getting Started

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

June 7, 2023

TEMPERANCE – Here’s a warning for softball teams facing Temperance Bedford the next couple of seasons: Intentionally walking Aubrey Hensley only gives her more confidence.

Southeast & BorderThe Kicking Mules sophomore just finished her season with 23 home runs in 39 games, shattering school and Monroe County records. She remembers the home runs from the season that ended in the Division 1 District Finals, but she also remembers the walks.

“Our first game of the season, my first at-bat, I didn’t even get a swing in,” Hensley said. “As a hitter, it plays with your mind, but it also gives you confidence. If I go to the plate and they aren’t even willing to pitch to me, that gives me even more confidence. The next time up, I’m really going to look for my pitch.”

Hensley saw plenty of pitches she liked this season. She hit just a tick below .500 (61 hits in 124 at-bats), with seven doubles, five triples and nearly two dozen homers. They were pretty much split between the newly renovated Kicking Mules field in Temperance and road games.

Her most memorable home run was at Ypsilanti Lincoln.

“I usually have pretty good games at their field,” she said. “This year I hit a home run and hit the building which is behind the fence. That was a good one. I liked that watching and hearing that one hit.”

Hensley grew up in Toledo and moved across the state line in fifth grade. By then she was already involved in northwest Ohio travel softball programs.

“Softball kind of came naturally for me,” she said. “I loved to go to the field with my mom (Amanda) or my brother or just hit off the tee. I just have a mentality that I’m a good hitter and I can do whatever I put my mind to.”

Prior to her freshman season, Mules coach Marla Gooding, a first-grade teacher at Bedford, sent Hensley into the weight room. 

“I was not expecting to hit home runs going into my freshman season,” Hensley said. “I didn’t really know what to expect.

“When I was little, I wasn’t always a power hitter. I would hit a few doubles or triples and get into the ball some. I worked and put in time in the weight room, especially going into the freshman year. I think that really contributed to my home run hitting. Coach had us in the weight room during the season a little bit. It helps to develop your body to be a power hitter.”

Hensley steps to the plate against Monroe. With the power in place, Hensley began concentrating on swinging through the ball.

“I don’t expect to hit a home run every time, but I go up to the plate thinking it’s possible,” she said. “I’m swinging to get through the ball and just drive it somewhere. I’m not hitting for contact. If you just go up hitting for contact, you are swinging lighter, and if it doesn’t go far, you start doubting yourself. I just go up and swing to drive the ball.”

Countless hours hitting off the tee and facing batting practice pitchers helped her fine-tune her swing. 

“I don’t like to get down on myself, because then it snowballs onto the field or another at-bat,” she said. “Short memory is one thing we really wanted to work on this year. I think I applied that more. It’s difficult sometimes if you aren’t getting the pitches that you want or aren’t producing. I just try to go up there with some swag and get the job done.”

Gooding called her a dream to coach.

“She’s a power-five softball player,” she said. “And the greatest kid ever. Seriously, a workhorse and team-first mentality.”

On the field, she is the Bedford catcher. She didn’t commit an error all season.

Hensley was a pitcher at a young age but loved the transition to behind the plate.

“When I got behind the plate, I loved it,” she said. “It’s like being a general out there controlling the whole field. I get to see everyone and everything. I put in a lot of work when I was little. I started with the basics and just advanced from there. I’m pretty dedicated to being the best I can behind the plate for my pitcher.”

Hensley will balance her summer of babysitting, playing basketball for the Mules in June and a busy summer travel softball season that will take her around Ohio, Kansas and Tennessee. She helped the Kicking Mules set a school record for wins with 23 and win a District title in basketball last winter.

Hensley isn’t the only Bedford softball player to show power this season. As a team, Bedford hit 51 home runs, including 12 by teammate Payton Pudlowski. That is one of the reasons Hensley isn’t simply intentionally walked time after time.

“We have some solid pieces behind her, and the two girls in front of her got on base all of the time,” Gooding said. “It was hard for other teams to do that.”

With 23 home runs this season, Hensley’s put her name among the top five all-time single seasons in state history. The record is 29 by Kali Heivilin from Three Rivers in 2021.

With 34 career home runs, she is almost in the top 25. 

Hensley isn’t concerned about records right now, except for one thing. She wants to put up a number that, by the time she graduates, is out of this world.

As she tells it, “I want to push the record so far that no one can touch it by the time I’m done with my career at Bedford.”

She might already have.

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) Bedford’s Aubrey Hensley prepares to drive a pitch this season. (Middle) Hensley steps to the plate against Monroe. (Photos by Christine Kwiatkowski.)