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.
Evart was added to the MHSAA softball record book 23 times for achievements during an outstanding three-season run that has included a Division 3 runner-up finish in 2022.
Then-junior Katelyn Gostlin twice was included for hitting streaks, of 26 straight games during the 2022 season and 22 straight this past spring. She also was added for 23 doubles in 2022, and then-senior Addysen Gray was added for 16 doubles in 2023. Ally Theunick was added for 11 home runs this spring and 23 over her first three seasons with one more to play. Gostlin, Theunick and 2021 graduate Ryenn Baumgardner all were added for single-game accomplishments.
Among team record listings, Evart had 405 hits, 419 runs, 85 doubles, 35 home runs and 328 RBI over 39 games this spring. Gostlin has signed with Mid-Michigan College, and Gray is playing softball and basketball there this school year.
See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA softball record book:
Olivia Mikowski followed up her Maple City Glen Lake team’s Division 4 basketball championship in March with a national record this spring on the diamond. She tied the MHSAA and national records with 20 triples, over 35 games, among five record book entries she earned. She also is listed for 74 RBI this past season, while now-junior Jessie Pugh earned a listing with 66 runs scored over 37 games. Mikowski is continuing at Schoolcraft College.
Essexville Garber finished a combined 71-14 over the last two seasons and reached the Division 2 Semifinals in 2022 after winning its first Regional title since 1997, along the way achieving several record book performances for both team and individual lists. The Dukes hit 53 home runs over 41 games this past spring, tying for sixth most as senior Sarah Basket set a program record and made the individual list with 12. Basket also was added for 21 doubles in 2022, with Laney Kokaly making the doubles list that season with 16 and Ella Wagner making it was 16 this past season. Kortney Kotenko set the previous Garber home run record in 2022, making the record book list with 11. All four were seniors in 2023. Kotenko is continuing at Madonna, while Basket is playing at Lawrence Tech and Wagner at Northwood. Kokaly is playing volleyball at Northwood.
Three Rivers and now-senior Ava Forman made the single-season hits list with 75 over 41 games and the single-season doubles list for 22 last spring and also 18 over 40 games as a sophomore. Three Rivers as a team made the records for 423 hits, 101 doubles and 277 RBI over 42 games in 2023.
Armada’s Taylor Capozzo had 19 doubles in 2023 to make that single-season list, plus hit back-to-back home runs in a game against Yale, and Natalie Sauer drove in six runs in a game against Brown City. Capozzo is a sophomore this school year, and Sauer graduated in the spring and is continuing at St. Clair County Community College.
Schoolcraft’s Lauren Evans hit 31 doubles in 2023 as a junior, the second-most in MHSAA history, as the Eagles totaled 118 over 41 games – also the second-most doubles on the team list. Schoolcraft also made record lists for 436 hits and 316 RBI for the season and five home runs in a game against Battle Creek Pennfield (which included back-to-back homers by Evans). Teammate Sydney Drenth, then a sophomore, made the doubles list with 22, and senior Alayna Meade made the same list with 16. Meade is continuing at Cornerstone, and Evans has committed to sign with Saginaw Valley State.
Farmington Hills Mercy finished 29-1 in 2023, earning four record book entries along the way. The Marlins tied for second-fewest runs allowed, giving up only 16. They also made lists for 11 consecutive shutouts, 385 strikeouts and a .435 average and just missed the single-season shutouts list with 23.
Unionville-Sebewaing’s 2022 Division 4 championship season produced another series of record book-worthy accomplishments. As a team, USA set an MHSAA record with 128 doubles over 40 games and was fourth on the team RBI list with 391, while also earning entries with 44 runs scored, 485 hits and 48 home runs. Individually, then-sophomore Gabriella Crumm was added for 80 hits, 21 doubles and 11 home runs, and then-senior Laci Harris was added for 11 home runs as well plus 72 hits, 19 doubles and career totals of 31 home runs, 170 RBI, 170 runs scored and 51 doubles over 123 games despite her sophomore season of 2020 being canceled due to COVID-19. Then-junior Oliva Jubar was added for 18 doubles, and then-sophomore Ella Neumann was added for 17. Harris is continuing her career at Madonna.
Paige Ratliff finished her Battle Creek Lakeview career in the spring with 10 record book entries across a variety of categories. Most notably, she totaled 37 doubles, 30 home runs and a .520 career average over three seasons and 108 games. She’s continuing at Lake Forest College (Ill.).
Hudson then-freshman Taylor Kopin opened her high school career in the spring by scoring 65 runs to make the individual record book. In doing so, she also helped Hudson make the team record book list with 417 runs scored over 39 games.
Haslett’s Payden Whitmore earned her school’s first softball record book entry since 2007 by hitting 12 triples over 38 games in the spring. She’s a junior this school year.
Mancelona has a pair of softball players who reached career lists last season with more to play. Now-senior Ella Jones was added for 20 doubles as a sophomore in 2022 and 19 this spring, and made the career doubles list with 39 and a season to play. Now-junior Ella Schram was added for her 13 triples as a freshman and .650 average this spring, and she’s on the career triples list with 23 and will qualify for the career average list if she keeps hitting at this pace over her next seasons.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart hit the second-most triples in MHSAA history on the way to the Division 4 Semifinals in the spring. The Irish piled up 48 over 43 games, led by freshman Mairin Wheaton, who hit 12 over 42, respectively.
Reed City made the team record lists with 78 doubles and 252 RBI over 39 games in the spring, and a pair of standouts also were added. Morgan Hammond, then a freshman, and then-sophomore Paityn Enos both were added for single-game RBI, plus Enos was added for 72 hits and 20 doubles and Hammond was added for 22 doubles.
Manton now-junior Adriana Sackett earned her first record book listings in the spring. Twice she hit back-to-back home runs in games, and she also was added for 11 homers total over 26 games.
A trio of Ravenna standouts put up a series of record book-caliber totals over the last two seasons, including some of the highest-ranking all time. Emma Gillard graduated in the spring with nine record book entries, including for 85 runs (fourth most) and 13 triples (tied for 20th) this past season, and she made career lists with 200 runs, 27 triples and a .532 average over 111 games and three years. Emma Herremans is just a junior but has 11 record book listings after two seasons including for 25 doubles (11th-most) as a freshman in 2022 and a .652 average and 73 RBI this past spring, and she’s already on career lists for doubles and triples. Kara Postema graduated this spring with six record book entries, including season and career records for times hit by pitch (23 and 49, respectively), and she also made career lists with 36 doubles and 153 RBI over 111 games and three seasons. Gillard is continuing at Ferris State and Postema at Cornerstone.
PHOTO Evart's Riley Brigham connects during her team's Division 3 Final against Millington in 2022.