Team of the Month: Gaylord Softball

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

June 9, 2023

Gaylord has set a standard few have matched the last few seasons, landing that bar at an elite level since taking a freshman-filled team to the Division 2 Semifinals two years ago and coming within a run of toppling that weekend’s eventual champion.

Those freshmen are now eight juniors, book-ended by two seniors and two sophomores for a team that took over the No. 1 ranking in the state coaches poll at the start of May and is 34-2 heading into this weekend’s Regional at Cadillac.

The MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for May also won the Big North Conference for the third-straight season and swept league competition for the second in row, swept Division 3 top-ranked Evart among other high-caliber wins, and last weekend added to a regular-season shutout of Escanaba with a 13-1 win over the No. 2-ranked Eskymos on the way to a District title. Escanaba had eliminated Gaylord in last year’s Regional Final.

“I think the way they play to the standard, regardless of what the score is, that’s just kind of a mindset thing. They’re really just trying to be excellent in everything that they do,” Gaylord coach Tony Vaden said. “They’re always practicing the fundamentals of the game as much as possible, trying to be great at every aspect that they can. And I think that’s the difference between us and a lot of the other teams, is that there’s a real focus on playing to our standard at all times.”

Vaden said he could see the beginnings of establishing that high standard before this season, but it’s really taken hold this spring in part because his players are starting to be presented with college opportunities.

The first-year varsity coach – who previously led the JV – also said he must give leading credit to his assistant Greg Jones, whom he called the “architect” of the current success. A two-time Class D baseball champion at Hillman and then standout player at Central Michigan coached most of the Blue Devils in youth ball, leading them to a Little League state championship in 2015.

Vaden said seven of his 10 upperclassmen are at some stage in the college commitment process for softball – including senior Alexis Kozlowski (signed with Ferris State), junior infielder/pitcher Jayden Jones (Greg’s daughter, committed to sign with Virginia Tech) and junior second baseman Alexis Shepherd (committed to Toledo). Four more juniors also have committed to college softball programs, junior Avery Parker will sign with Northwood basketball, and Vaden said he anticipates college opportunities for remaining uncommitted Blue Devils as well. Sophomore Aubrey Jones – Greg’s daughter as well – already has offers from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech.

“They know there’s eyes upon them, so they’re just really focused on what they’re doing at all times,” Vaden said. “Not to mention the fact we have our individual goals and we have our team goals, and they need to play to the standard to meet those.”

The numbers the team has put up so far are setting a bar for those to come as well.

The Blue Devils have scored 401 runs with 425 hits including 105 doubles and 66 home runs, with a team average of .438. All of those make the MHSAA record book right now – the average eighth all-time if they maintain it, with the doubles sixth and climbing and the home runs second and four off tying the state record.

Kozlowski is hitting .591 with 21 doubles, 11 homers, 59 RBI and 23 stolen bases. Junior Taylor Moeggenberg is hitting .524 with nine home runs and 44 RBI, and Aubrey Jones is right at .500 with 16 homers and 59 RBI. Five more players are hitting .420 or better, and the team has a an 0.82 ERA with Parker, the Jones sisters and senior Abby Radulski contributing in the circle.

Major tests are coming Saturday with No. 10 Big Rapids in a Regional Semifinal and then either No. 4 Essexville Garber or honorable mention Freeland if the Blue Devils advance.

But there’s something else of championship value that sticks out to Vaden almost as much as that high standard to which his players are aspiring.

“They’re always cheering each other on, and they also hold each other accountable. You don’t always see that,” he said. “They’re still teenagers, and it’s hard to say to another person, ‘Hey snap out of it. Let’s go.’ But they’re all around each other all the time, they’re all in class together. And they’ve been around each other since they were little.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2022-23

April: Saugatuck girls soccer - Report
Croswell-Lexington competitive cheer - Report
Hart girls & boys basketball - Report
Taylor Trillium Academy girls bowling - Report
Byron Center hockey - Report
Martin football - Report
Gladwin volleyball - Report
Negaunee girls tennis - Report

PHOTO courtesy of the Gaylord athletic department.

State Champs! Network: 2023 Softball Finals Highlights

July 19, 2023

Join Kara Liles as we take a look at all of the action from the 2023 Softball State Finals Congratulations to our State Champions :

Division 1 - Hartland
Division 2 - Gaylord
Division 3 - Standish-Sterling
Division 4 - Unionville-Sebewaing