EAST LANSING – Not even a once-in-a-lifetime, over the fence, home-run robbing catch by Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart centerfielder Alexys Zeien could stop the Unionville-Sebewaing softball machine.
USA junior catcher Gabriella Crumm belted what looked like a sure two-run home run to left-centerfield in the top of the seventh inning Thursday morning, only to watch in disbelief as Zeien leapt, fully extended over the fence and yanked the yellow ball back into play, safely “snow coned” in the top of her glove.
Instead of a 4-1 USA lead, it remained a narrow 2-1 edge.
Unfazed, USA junior pitcher Rylie Betson retired the upset-minded Irish 1, 2, 3 in the bottom of the seventh for the narrow 2-1 win at Secchia Stadium, as the Patriots advanced to Saturday’s Division 4 Final – which will be the school’s 12th Finals appearance. USA has won eight titles, including the last three.
“When I hit it, I was like: ‘YEAH, that’s gone,’” said Crumm, the team’s lone captain and a returning first-team all-stater. “Then I looked out there and saw that she caught it, and I was like ‘Respect.’
“We still had the lead and we just had to go get three more outs, and that’s what we did.”
USA, ranked No. 1 in the final Division 4 coaches poll, will try to make it four championships in a row Saturday against No. 2-ranked Mendon, which had only one hit but manufactured four runs in a 4-2 Semifinal win over Johannesburg-Lewiston.
The Patriots are the only softball team with a chance to repeat. In fact, the other three winners from last year – Allen Park (D1), Stevensville Lakeshore (D2) and Millington (D3) – all fell short of the Semifinals this time.
USA’s 12 appearances in Softball Finals will tie for the most in state history with Kalamazoo Christian. The Patriots’ first Finals appearance didn’t come until 2006, but they now have made 12 title games in the past 18 years.
“It never gets old,” explained Crumm, who started watching her school compete for Finals titles when she was just a little girl. “We know how important it is to our school, to our community and all of those little girls in the stands.”
The Patriots’ latest Semifinal victory will not go down as a thing of beauty, or perhaps it will, depending on who recounts it.
First-year USA coach Marc Reinhardt didn’t mind that his team tallied only seven hits and two runs – both of them unearned.
“We will take it any way that we can get it,” said Reinhardt, whose daughter, Macy, had a two-run double in last year’s championship game win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford. “This is the first time I haven’t sat in one of the stadium seats here and watched the game.”
Crumm was the only USA player with multiple hits.
The Patriots fell behind 1-0 after the first inning, then took the lead with single runs in the fourth and fifth.
Jenna Gremmel led off the fourth inning with a double and came around on a wild pitch and a throwing error. Lauren Green then led off the fifth inning with a single and eventually scored after a passed ball and another throwing error.
USA’s run in the fourth inning snapped a 37-inning postseason scoreless streak by the Irish, who won their first six tournament games by a combined score of 65-0.
Sacred Heart, which started three freshmen and three sophomores, showed off their bats in the first inning, jumping out to the lead behind doubles from senior Eliza Pieratt and sophomore Kallie Smith.
But Betson settled in after that, scattering four hits over the final six innings.
“They were a good team and were hitting me pretty good,” said Betson. “The thing is, I know my team is so solid behind me and that takes so much weight off of my shoulders.”
Mendon 4, Johannesburg-Lewiston 2
Mendon managed just one hit over seven innings, but took advantage of its opportunities and used aggressive base-running to advance to its first Final since 1992.
The Hornets broke through despite having one of the youngest teams in the field with two seniors, no juniors and a combined 11 sophomores and freshmen.
“We thought we’d be something special in a couple of years, but these girls are different – they don’t quit,” said Mendon co-head coach Mike Smith, who handles the duties along with Steve Butler. “We had one hit, but we won the game, so who cares?”
Mendon, 35-5, scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning, capitalizing on a pair of errors, then scored its final two runs in the top of the sixth, taking advantage of two walks and three wild pitches.
Freshman Mattea Bingaman had the Hornets’ only hit, an infield single in the sixth inning, and sophomore Brielle Bailey was credited with her team’s only RBI.
The standout for the Hornets was senior pitcher Lauren Schabes, who went all seven innings, allowing six hits, three walks and striking out 12.
Schabes won’t have much time to celebrate, however, as she had to hurry home after the game for her graduation open house in Mendon, which is about 71 miles from MSU in the southwest corner of the state.
“It’s going to be a busy night,” said Schabes, one of just two seniors for the Hornets, along with third baseman Carlie Doehring. “I don’t even have time to go to B-Dubs (Buffalo Wild Wings) with everybody else.”
Johannesburg-Lewiston, 30-4-1, advanced to the Semifinals for the first time since 1981 and fell just short of its first Finals appearance.
Junior pitcher Jayden Marlatt was the hard-luck loser, allowing just one hit and striking out 15 over seven innings. Reagan Sides had two hits and two RBIs, and Brittney Fox also ripped two hits.
PHOTOS (Top) A Unionville-Sebewaing hitter makes contact during her team’s Semifinal win Friday. (Middle) Gabriella Crumm celebrates at second base. (Below) Mendon’s Lauren Schabes makes her move toward the plate. (Photos by Adam Sheehan/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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