Tourney-Tested Scots Setting Bar High Again

April 24, 2019

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

CALEDONIA – The Caledonia softball team celebrated the program’s first MHSAA championship a year ago with a 6-4 win over Hartland in the MHSAA Division 1 Final.

With 11 players from that squad back, there’s a strong belief the Fighting Scots have the potential to make a similar postseason run.

“We want to live up to what we did last year a little bit,” senior infielder Brooklynne Siewertsen said. “Everybody thinks that we’re not going to be as good because we lost our star pitcher, but we can be just as good with the pitchers we have. We just need to step up our defense a little bit and show that we belong.”

Caledonia graduated only four seniors last spring. But the headliner of that group was starting pitcher Sammie Gehrls, who’s currently playing at Grand Valley State after earning all-state honors in the circle all four years of high school and leaving with eight entries for hitting in the MHSAA record book.

“She’s only one player, but she’s tough to replace,” 18th-year Caledonia coach Tom Kaechele said. “She did so many things for us on the mound and what have you.”

The Fighting Scots, who entered the week ranked No. 7 in Division 1, have a capable stable of pitchers to fill the void but have suffered early setbacks.

Their No. 1 pitcher, junior Emallee Hamp, can’t throw right now due to an injury, while senior starting catcher Taylor Cross also is sidelined due to an injury suffered in a scrimmage.

“We’re still trying to find the right pieces,” Kaechele said. “Just playing the right pieces and having girls feel comfortable with whoever is on the mound and realizing that they have to play more defense than they did with Sammie. We’re not going to get those 10 or 12-strikeout games.”

But with the bulk of its roster having experienced last year’s success, Caledonia understands what needs to be done to play at a high level.

“We know what it’s like to play at that level, and we know what we are capable of,” Fighting Scots junior Abby Mitchell said. “We’ve already grown tremendously from our first game, and we are all ready to keep getting after it in the coming weeks.”

Added Siewertsen: “It helps tremendously to have a lot of returners because we all know what it takes to get back there (to the Finals). We have a lot of grit and determination.”

The Fighting Scots, who also return seniors Ashleigh VanZytveld, Sage Turner, Jadon Huyser, Erika Dunham, Brenna Nurenberg and Julia Becker and junior Megan Claery, already have seen the effects of being the reigning champions.

Opposing teams aren’t making it easy, and that was obvious in Monday’s 20-13 extra-inning win over Ottawa-Kent Conference Red rival Rockford.

“It’s hard because you have a target on your back and everyone wants to beat you because you are the defending state champs,” Kaechele said. “So it doesn’t matter which team it is because they are going to come out and try to give you the best they have. Rockford never gave up against us and kept coming at us and fighting.”

This year’s team has a close-knit bond and motivates each other daily.

“We all get along really well and push each other in practice and games,” Mitchell said. “We all have so much fun playing the game together, which makes the opportunity to play with these girls incredible.”

Mitchell joined Gehrls in making the all-state first team last season, and Cross earned an honorable mention. Kaechele knew he had a majority of his big bats returning to the lineup, but defense would have to be improved.

“Because of the hitting we had coming back I thought we could be very good coming into the season. But I also knew we had to play better defense, and that’s one thing we’re still trying to work on,” he said. “Just getting our defense back to where it was last year.”

The Fighting Scots are off to a 7-4 start and compete in a highly-competitive O-K Red with the likes of state powerhouses Grandville and Hudsonville, both honorable mentions in the latest Division 1 rankings.

Caledonia didn’t win the conference crown last season, but played well down the stretch en route to its historic feat.

“Once we got on a roll last year we were so dialed in as a team, and we wanted it really bad,” Kaechele said. “We have to get that mindset back and hopefully we can put it all together and get the confidence we need and get some players back that will help us.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at dream100@comcast.net with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Caledonia’s Jadon Huyser is congratulated by assistant coach Amanda Kimes after tripling during last season’s Division 1 Final against Hartland. (Middle) Brooklynne Siewertsen fires a throw to first during the Fighting Scots’ Semifinal win over Warren Regina.

Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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:

Softball

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.