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.”
Senior 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.”
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.
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023