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 [email protected] 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.

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

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) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)