Unionville-Sebewaing Adds Title No. 8 in Record-Setting Fashion

By Jason Schmitt
Special for MHSAA.com

June 19, 2021

EAST LANSING — There was a moment early on this season when Unionville-Sebewaing head coach Isaiah Gainforth had some doubts as to just how good his Patriots were going to be. 

But all those doubts were erased as his team celebrated its 36th-straight victory in the Division 4 Final against Rudyard. The Patriots’ 14-1 win over the Bulldogs capped off a remarkable season which saw the team break or tie three championship game records Saturday afternoon.

“We started the season 4-3,” Gainforth said after his team captured its second-consecutive state title. “Obviously, you go without the year last year, so you don’t know who your team is, what its makeup is. You didn’t know what you had. It took a while. We weren’t pushing the panic button. We were playing the tough part of our schedule early on.”

Gainforth’s team righted the ship. The offense started hitting the ball, while senior starting pitcher Brynn Polega did her thing to near perfection. 

“We just got on a roll. They’re just smart hitters. They understand hitting,” said Gainforth, whose team hit better than .400 for the season. “Considering where we were after game No. 7, up to now, I wouldn’t have guessed that. Once we got into the league and got it going, we just kept adding up the runs.”

USA (40-3) broke the record for hits in a championship game, collecting 20 against the Bulldogs. The previous record was 17, shared by Jenison (Class A, 1988) and Millington (Division 3, 2019). Eight players had multiple hits, including senior Emily Rieman, whose four hits tied a championship game record.

“It was my last game and I was like, ‘Bring it all, or nothing,’” said Rieman, who also scored two runs and drove in three more. “In the beginning (of the season), we were like, ‘Execute, execute, execute. Don’t miss a pitch. If it’s there, you at least have to foul it off.’ Our coaches have been there with us since the beginning, and that’s all we’ve been doing is practicing our hitting.

“I was just feeling everything (today). I couldn’t miss a pitch. I was just feeling it.”

Unionville-Sebewaing softballSenior Maci Montgomery and junior Macy Reinhardt both had three hits and seniors Emma Stecker and Olivia Jubar, junior Laci Harris and freshman Gabriella Crumm each added two hits.

Polega, who had two hits herself at the plate, picked up the win in the circle. In the process, she set a championship game record for strikeouts in seven innings, with 19.

“I felt really good,” said Polega, who will play at Northwood University next year. “My warmup, I went to the bullpen and it was probably the best one I’ve had all year. I came out of the bullpen and told the coaches, ‘I’m ready. It’s game time. I’m ready.” 

Polega retired the first 10 batters she faced, eight by strikeout. Rudyard senior Desta MacDowell’s one-out walk in the fourth inning broke up Polega’s perfect game. MacDowell would come around and score on an RBI single by sophomore Meagan Postma. But that’s all Rudyard would get.

“Brynn is a stud. Any game she pitches in, any game she will pitch in for Northwood, they’ll have a chance because she’s a gamer, just an absolute beast,” Gainforth said. “I’m so glad she’s wearing the red, white and blue.”

It was the 10th appearance in the championship game for USA, which has now won five titles in Division 4 (2009, 2015-16, 2019, 2021) and two more in Division 3 (2006-07). The 10 Finals appearances are the second-most in MHSAA softball history.

Rudyard proved it is a program on the ascent, having reached the Division 4 championship game this season after capturing the school’s first-ever Regional title in 2018 and following it up with two more Regional championships in 2019 and 2021. 

“We’re happy to be here,” Rudyard head coach Stephen Davis said. “We had a great year. We have to look at what we did and enjoy it. It was fun to watch the kids we brought up from the JV get a taste of this. They’ll want to come back. They’ll want to be up on that stage. We’ll use that for motivation for the future.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Unionville-Sebewaing’s Macy Reinhardt takes a cut during her team’s Division 3 championship game win Saturday at Secchia Stadium. (Middle) USA’s Brynn Polega unloads a pitch; she would finish with 19 strikeouts.

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.)