By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING — Another pitcher might have backed down and avoided the threat altogether.
But Nikki Bauer of Unionville-Sebewaing isn't just an ordinary pitcher.
One day earlier, Cloe Mallory of Indian River Inland Lakes was intentionally walked in her next two at-bats after hitting a two-run homer that produced the game's only runs in an MHSAA Division 4 Semifinal victory over Holton.
The thought of pitching around Mallory never crossed Bauer's mind, not even when the possibility that one swing of the bat in the final inning could cost the Patriots a second straight MHSAA championship.
"I struck her out the time before," Bauer said. "I try not to be afraid of hitters, because it just messes with my mind."
Bauer went right at Mallory, and got more than she bargained for. Not only did she strike out the Central Michigan University commit for the third straight time, but catcher Sara Reinhardt caught Precious Delos Santos trying to steal second base for an unorthodox double play. Shortstop Marisa Morton stayed with the tag after Delos Santos overslid the base.
One groundout later, and the Patriots repeated as Division 4 champions with a 1-0 victory over Inland Lakes on Saturday at Michigan State University.
It's the fifth championship in 11 years for Unionville-Sebewaing, which also won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
"I never actually thought this day would come, where I would be in the position to represent our town and represent our school," said senior Kayla Gremel, who scored the game's only run in the top of the sixth inning. "I'm proud. This is what we've worked for since we were little girls. The goal was to get to Battle Creek, then it changed to MSU. We showed everyone we can do it."
One game after Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central’s Meghan Beaubien threw only the second perfect game ever in an MHSAA Final, Bauer took a perfect game into the sixth inning. A lead-off single up the middle by Makayla Henckel in the sixth broke it up, but Bauer retired the next three batters.
"I don't really think about that," Bauer said of the perfect game. "I guess no runs is my goal. I was just thinking that every hit is a run; that's what my mindset was. I needed to keep that off the field."
Mallory, who has 15 homers, figured she would have to earn the Patriots' respect.
"Coming into this game, I didn't think they were going to intentionally walk me," she said. "Every game you have to prove yourself. I didn't do that much in this game."
It was the second year in a row that Bauer pitched a one-hit shutout and struck out 11 in the championship game. She started the 2014 Division 3 title game against Gladstone, but was pulled after four innings of a 2-1 loss.
"I know what losing here feels like, and I know what winning here feels like," Bauer said. "I know which one I want to feel."
Bauer is not only a dominant pitcher, but she has a 4.006 GPA and scored 33 (36 is perfect) on the ACT college entrance test. The combination of athletic and academic prowess earned her a softball scholarship to Stanford.
"The thing of it is, she's such a special person, just in terms of being a person, also," Patriots coach Steve Bohn said. "She's a great representative of Unionville-Sebewaing, a great representative for Stanford University. Everything she does is top-notch."
After battling with Mallory through five scoreless innings, Bauer got all of the support she would need in the top of the sixth.
Gremel led off with a single to center field, was bunted to second by Alexis Cady and advanced to third on a wild pitch. She beat the throw home when Marisa Morton bunted the ball to third base.
"I'm not the fastest girl on the team, but I knew I had to run my butt off in order to win," Gremel said. "That's just what I did, I guess. I knew that Nikki was on fire. I knew that their offense was slow, our offense was slow, so one run was going to put us ahead and get us the win."
The Patriots loaded the bases after Gremel scored, but couldn't add to their lead.
While Bauer pretty much cruised through the game, Mallory pitched with runners on base in all seven innings, but battled out of some tough situations to keep her team in the game. She gave up six hits, walked four and hit a batter one day after pitching a shutout against Holton.
The Patriots stranded nine runners.
"It's definitely hard, especially coming from yesterday when there was barely anyone on base to today when everyone was on base," Mallory said. "It's like you have to be perfect with every pitch and just know you've got to make this one or it's not going to end well."
It was only the second appearance ever for Inland Lakes in an MHSAA championship game in any sport. The 1998 baseball team lost in the Division 4 final to Southgate Aquinas. The school's only MHSAA title is in the nonbracketed sport of girls track and field (1979, Class D).
PHOTOS: (Top) Unionville-Sebewaing’s Nikki Bauer prepares to fire a pitch during the Division 4 Final. (Middle) The Patriots celebrate their latest championship at Secchia Stadium.
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