Tradition Continues to Grow as USA Claims Record 9th Softball Finals Title

By Tom Kendra
Special for

June 17, 2023

EAST LANSING - Unionville-Sebewaing won its record ninth MHSAA Finals championship – and fourth in a row – on Saturday, but this one might have been the most dramatic.

And most unexpected.

“This one is really special because no one thought we would make it again,” said USA junior left fielder Jenna Gremel, who was the star of the game with a three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning to lift the top-ranked Patriots to a 5-4 win over No. 2 Mendon in the Division 4 championship game at Secchia Stadium.

“We didn’t have a dominant pitcher or a lot of seniors, but we were determined to keep (our tradition) going.”

USA drew on years of experience to survive a serious scare in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The Patriots led 5-3 entering the bottom half of the inning, with the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters in the Mendon order up next.

Olivia Jubar (4) rounds third base.But things would soon get interesting, as eight hitter Brielle Bailey led off with a solid single and Abby Butler got hit by a pitch. The bases were loaded with two outs when freshman Mattea Bingaman was hit by another pitch, forcing in a run to make it 5-4 and leaving the bases loaded.

Mendon’s next hitter made contact, but popped it up to pitcher Rylie Betson, who clutched it in her glove to secure perhaps the school’s most improbable championship.

“I don’t know where those hit-by-pitches came from, I don’t know if we’ve had one of those all year,” said USA coach Marc Reinhardt, who has coached travel softball in the USA community for more than 10 years but is in his first year as varsity head coach. “But Rylie is my warrior. She came through under some serious pressure.”

USA won its third title in a row last spring behind the dominant pitching of senior Laci Harris and the bat of fellow senior Macy Reinhardt, the current coach’s daughter.

But finding someone to replace Harris in the circle was a big question, and Betson was converted from a position player to No. 1 pitcher – and came through admirably.

“We didn’t have a kid who throws 60, so we’ve had to support her and play our best behind her,” Marc Reinhardt said.

After limiting the powerful bats of Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart to just one run in Friday’s Semifinal, Betson came back and went seven more innings Saturday, allowing five hits, three walks and four earned runs.

Then the Patriots did just enough with their bats to pull out the win.

Mendon actually made the first big move of the game in the bottom of the third inning, with a two-run triple by senior pitcher Lauren Schabes, who went on to score to give the Hornets a brief 3-1 lead.

USA struck right back in the top of the fourth, highlighted by Gremel’s three-run homer, which barely cleared the outstretched glove of Mendon left fielder Rowan Allen. The play was eerily reminiscent of Friday, when USA catcher Gabriella Crumm’s shot to left field was pulled back from over the fence by Sacred Heart centerfielder Alexis Zeien – a play which has garnered national attention.

“All I was thinking up there is that I wanted to get those runners in,” said Gremel, who had seven home runs coming into Saturday’s game. “I swung my hardest, and I ended up getting myself home, too. I wasn’t expecting a home run, that’s for sure.”

Rylie Betson makes her move toward the plate for the Patriots.USA added one more run to take a 5-3 lead, which is how it stayed until the dramatics in the bottom of the seventh.

“I thought maybe the lucky leprechaun was going to sprinkle some magic dust out there for us in the last inning, but it didn’t happen,” said Steve Butler, in his sixth year as the co-head coach of Mendon, along with Mike Smith. “We battled them right to the end, and we had a chance to win and we probably should have won. I can’t ask for anything more out of these girls.”

Schabes went five innings for Mendon (35-6) and Allen, a freshman, came in and allowed no hits over the final two innings. Schabes also finished 3-for-3 at the plate.

USA, 33-10, finished with eight hits. Gremel was 2-for-3 with the three-run homer and Olivia Jubar went 2-for-3.

Reinhardt said he took the head coaching job after his youngest daughter graduated last spring because he is determined to keep the USA tradition going. The Patriots have earned nine Finals titles, one more than Stevensville Lakeshore and Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes on the list of those that have won the most in state history.

Reinhardt got all the young players from Unionville and Sebewaing together for the team’s sendoff to the Semifinals on Friday.

“I wanted to do that to put a little bit of fire in their belly to keep this thing going,” he said. “You could hear them whisper to each other: ‘I want to do that someday.’”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Teammates welcome USA’s Jenna Gremel (13) home during Saturday’s Division 4 Final. (Middle) Olivia Jubar (4) rounds third base. (Below) Rylie Betson makes her move toward the plate for the Patriots. (Photos by Olivia Napier/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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