Trenton, Lakeshore Emerge with 1-Run Semifinal Wins, Advance to Saturday

By Tom Kendra
Special for

June 16, 2022

EAST LANSING – Trenton and Essexville Garber are not used to making long runs in softball.

In fact, most of the players on both teams weren’t even born the last time their schools reached the Softball Semifinals.

The newcomers put on a show Thursday on the state’s biggest stage, with Trenton holding off Garber, 2-1, in a classic pitcher’s duel at sunny, windswept Secchia Stadium.

“We just told them to believe,” said third-year Trenton coach Rick Tanguay. “Believe it’s going to happen and believe you’re going to put the ball in play. I’ve had a lot of these kids since they were 9 or 10 years old, and I’m proud of them.”

Trenton (34-10), which lost in the Division 2 Final in 2005 and had not been back to the Semifinals before this season, will play perennial power Stevensville Lakeshore in Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. championship game. Lakeshore defeated Escanaba, 2-1, in Thursday’s last Semifinal.

The Trojans had to come from behind to advance, after Garber jumped out to a 1-0 lead during the first inning.

Kortney Kotenko, a junior catcher, belted an RBI double to bring the big crowd from Essexville to its feet. The Dukes previously lost in the Class B Final in 1997, but hadn’t been back to the state’s Final Four until Thursday.

Garber would keep that 1-0 lead until the fifth inning, as junior pitcher Sarah Basket kept the Trojans off-balance.

Trenton finally broke through by manufacturing single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Pinch-runner Jordyn Emery scored on a fielding error in the fifth, then sophomore shortstop London Williams singled to left in the sixth inning to score Maddie Dobbs.

Those two runs would prove to be just enough as Trenton senior pitcher Aila Johnson turned back Garber’s last-chance, seventh-inning rally.

The Dukes put the pressure on, as Basket singled and then Jacqueline Brinkman was hit by a pitch. After a double steal, Garber had runners on second and third with two outs, before Johnson was able to shut the door with a strikeout.

“I have to be confident out there for my team, but that last inning was rough,” Johnson said with a smile. “I was trying to hide it, but I was nervous out there.”

Johnson may have been battling nerves on the inside, but it didn’t show in her stellar performance. The Siena Heights commit finished with just four strikeouts, but she kept the Dukes guessing for most of the game and allowed just four hits and one walk.

Tanguay said it was a classic performance by the battery of Johnson and her senior catcher, Olivia Hickman, who are two of just four seniors on the Trojans’ 16-player roster.

“Aila doesn’t get a lot of love; she doesn’t get a lot of press,” said Tanguay. “She’s not one of the top 10 (ranked) pitchers in the state, but she comes out and she’s a workhorse and she does it.”

Matching her every pitch along the way was Basket, a junior, who finished with a five-hitter, no walks, one earned run and nine strikeouts.

Garber (35-9) is an even younger team than Trenton, with just three seniors on the 16-player roster. The Dukes relied on their stellar junior class to pull out several come-from-behind victories in Districts and Regionals en route to MSU.

“You know, this is the first time we’ve been this far in 25 years – and 25 is a long time,” said second-year Garber coach Chris Kokaly. “Losing by one run is hard because you think about all of the opportunities we had where we just needed a key hit. We’ve been getting those hits all season and today, it just didn’t happen.”

Click for the full box score.

Stevensville Lakeshore 2, Escanaba 1

Lakeshore advanced to the championship game despite having just two hits in the Semifinal, both of them singles.

The Lancers (39-4) played small ball and took advantage of Escanaba miscues to manufacture single runs in the first inning and the sixth inning, and that proved to be just enough.

Lakeshore/Escanaba softball“The girls believe in their pitchers and their defense,” said 43rd-year Lakeshore coach Denny Dock, who ranks third in state softball history with 1,055 victories. “If we could get our bats out of the deep freeze, we’d be pretty good.”

Lakeshore’s pitching combination of junior Ava Mullen and sophomore Avery Atwood was outstanding, combining on a three-hitter.

Mullen set the tone by getting the first five outs of the game by strikeout. She kept cruising until the top of the sixth inning, when Escanaba used a walk and a solid single to right field by senior Lizzy Silva to tie the game, 1-1. After McKayla Mott singled, Dock decided to make a pitching change – bringing in Atwood with two runners on and two outs.

To say the decision turned out good is an understatement.

Atwood got the next hitter to pop out to the catcher on her first pitch, then struck out the side in the top of the seventh to get the win.

“I knew that Avery would do great, and she did,” said Mullen, who finished with 10 strikeouts. “I’m super proud of this team. We’ve worked on our attitudes and staying positive, and I really think that was a big reason why we won today.”

Gianna Kerschbaum and Gabby Solloway had the lone hits for Lakeshore, which has scored just five runs over its last three games – all wins – including a 2-1 victory over Wayland in the Regional Final and a 1-0 win over Jackson Northwest in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal.

Dock, also the longtime football coach at Lakeshore, has led Lancers softball to seven Finals championships, the most recent in 2015. Lakeshore finished runner-up in Division 2 in 2019.

Escanaba (30-6), which won Division 2 titles in 2018 and 2019 and made the Semifinals for the fifth time in six seasons, was out of sorts from the start Thursday. Mott relieved the starting pitcher after two walks and a wild pitch and threw most of the game, before freshman Grayson LaMarche relieved her in the fifth inning and took the loss.

“When two great teams play it comes down to a couple of plays, and that’s what happened today,” said second-year Escanaba coach Andy Fields. “Overall, this season was a phenomenal ride.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Trenton’s Jordyn Emery scores her team’s first run in the fifth inning Thursday. (Middle) A Lakeshore runner gets across the plate just before the tag by Escanaba’s Carney Salo.

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.)