Unexpected Ubly Reaches Season Finale

June 14, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

BATTLE CREEK — Nobody outside of Ubly expected the Bearcats to be playing for the MHSAA Division 4 softball championship.

Even some within the inner circle were skeptical.

"It's crazy and unbelievable," senior catcher Alyssa Briolat said following an 8-6 victory over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in a Semifinal on Friday at Bailey Park. "I would never have thought this would happen. It's just so surreal. I'm on cloud nine and my feet haven't touched the ground yet since we've been here. Now that we're going to the Final, we just need to keep it up and play our game."

It's understandable that Ubly's trip to the Final has caught everyone by surprise. The Bearcats (27-6) had never won a Regional championship until this season and were unranked. Even as they marched all the way to Battle Creek, they did so without facing a team that even merited honorable mention in the final state rankings.

But against a fourth-ranked Liggett team that allowed two runs or fewer in 26 of its 31 games, Ubly became the first team this season to put up eight runs against the Knights (27-5).

"At the beginning of the season, regionals was our goal," Ubly coach Courtney Dekoski said. "Last year we lost in the first round of regionals, so our goal was to improve there. Look where we are."

The Bearcats are playing on the final day of the season against top-ranked Kalamazoo Christian at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Bailey Park. After toppling the fourth-ranked team in the state, the Bearcats won't be intimidated against a program that owns six MHSAA titles.

"I'm psyched," Dekoski said. "There's no stopping us now with the momentum we have and the girls we have. It's anybody's game."

The key to Ubly's victory was a four-run third inning that featured a two-run homer by Briolat.

"I definitely wasn't trying for a home run," Briolat said. "I just wanted to get a hit. I struggled a little in the quarterfinal and I struck out my first at bat. I just wanted to make some contact. Right from the bat, it felt good."

The home run gave Ubly a 4-1 lead. Liggett scored twice in the bottom of the third inning to make it 4-3, but the Knights could never catch up. A three-run fifth got Liggett within 7-6, but Ubly got breathing room when Maria Guza led off the seventh with a home run.

Julia DeRoo gave Liggett a chance by leading off the seventh with a single, but she was picked off when pitcher Michela Guza speared a line drive by Emily Kanakry and threw to first base to complete a rally-killing double play.

"I was paying attention and knew if I caught it, I saw her off the base and we might have a double play," Guza said.

Maria Guza and Briolat drove in three runs each for Ubly.

Kalamazoo Christian 2, Rogers City 0

Senior Stephanie VanderLugt pitched a two-hit shutout for Kalamazoo Christian. She struck out nine and allowed only one run.

Rogers City's only significant threat came in the top of the seventh inning, when it put runners on first and second with one out. VanderLugt forced two popups to second base to end the game.

"I was a little nervous, because they could win with a home run, and I knew they had quite a few home runs over the whole year," VanderLugt said. "I was just trying to focus on my game, rather than what their batters had."

VanderLugt got all the support she would need when freshman Kara Gjeltema hit a solo homer to right field with one out in the fourth inning. The Comets got an insurance run when Carly Vandenberg led off the fifth with a double and scored on an error.

Kalamazoo Christian has won eight straight games, outscoring its competition 67-8, since getting swept 11-0, 15-5 late in the season by Division 1 powerhouse Mattawan.

"We don't see a Division 4 team until we get to this," Kalamazoo Christian coach Karla Reno said. "Locally, we've got Portage Central, Portage Northern, Mattawan, Coloma, Wayland, who are really top teams. All of the KVA teams are bigger schools than us. It helps prepare us tremendously. You can never play good teams too much. It helps bring our level of play up."

Rogers City (33-7) was in the semifinals for the first time since 2004, scoring 77 runs in six postseason games before getting blanked.

"We ran into a really good pitcher today," Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said. "We just couldn't come up with the big hit. We hit the ball all year. We're a great hitting team. You've got to give the Kalamazoo Christian pitcher a lot of credit."

Kalamazoo Christian is in the MHSAA Final for the ninth time, but the first time since 2002. The Comets have won the last six times they've reached the title game.

Click for full box scores.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ubly first baseman Lindsey Briolat prepares to scoop up a grounder during Friday's Semifinal win over University Liggett. (Middle) Kalamazoo Christian pitcher Stephanie VanderLugt delivers during her shutout of Rogers City. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)