Vicksburg, Gaylord Thrive on Plate Power to Earn Saturday Return

By Tom Kendra
Special for

June 15, 2023

EAST LANSING – Vicksburg’s Kennedy Davis didn’t get mad, she got even.

Davis ripped what looked like a three-run home run Thursday morning in the second inning, but it curved just foul on its way out of Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium.

No worries, as Davis connected on a nearly identical three-run bomb in the bottom of the sixth inning – this one a little farther right and clearly in the field of play – to erase a one-run deficit and lift the Bulldogs to a 4-2 victory over Richmond in a Division 2 Semifinal.

“It was the same pitch she threw me the first time, when I bombed it foul,” explained Davis, the only starting senior for Vicksburg, who also went the distance for the pitching win.

“I heard them call the same number as the first one, so I was ready. It was a meatball on the inside of the plate.”

Davis sent that “meatball” into the oak trees over the left field scoreboard and, in so doing, sent Vicksburg to its first softball championship game since 2016 – when it lost, ironically, to Richmond in the D2 Final.

Vicksburg (41-3-1) will face another big challenge in Saturday’s 10 a.m. Final against top-ranked Gaylord, which used three pitchers to hold off Dearborn Divine Child, 2-1, in Thursday’s second D2 Semifinal.

Vicksburg coach Paul Gephart, in his 10th season, sure remembers that Finals loss to Richmond seven years ago – and recalls Davis being a little girl watching from the bleachers.

The Bulldogs’ Peyton Smith readies to make a play.“Her cousin was on that team, and Kennedy was just a little girl in the stands,” Gephart recalled. “I reminded her about that this morning, and I could tell it motivated her.”

Davis’s home run was certainly the difference against a pesky Richmond team which entered the game unranked and playing just 16 hours after its Quarterfinal win Wednesday evening.

In spite of that, the Blue Devils took the lead Thursday by plating both of their runs in the top of the third inning.

Emma Hildreth singled and scored on a triple by returning all-stater Piper Clark, her 55th RBI of the season. Clark then scored on a single by Ashley Stafford.

Richmond, which finished 29-10 in coach Howard Stuart’s 45th year, looked like it might win by that score behind the pitching of sophomore Katie Shuboy.

Shuboy allowed just five hits in six innings of work – two by second baseman Peyton Smith, then singles by Delaney Moore and Kayla Chisholm, before the pivotal three-run homer by Davis in the sixth.

“This team always seems to find a way,” said Gephart, whose other pitcher, junior Audrie Dugan, broke her hand sliding during Regionals. “We’ve certainly come back from bigger deficits, but that hit was huge in that situation, playing here.”

After ripping the game-winning homer, Davis went to the circle and retired the Blue Devils 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh inning. She allowed two earned runs on seven hits and one walk, with three strikeouts.

Click for the box score.

Gaylord 2, Dearborn Divine Child 1

Top-ranked Gaylord (38-2) used two solo home runs and three pitchers to stave off an upset bid by unranked Divine Child and advance to its first Final after previously reaching the Semifinals in 2021 with many of the same players.

Her team behind 1-0 after two innings, Abby Radulski led off the third with a home run and Alexis Kozlowski did the same thing one inning later, giving the Blue Devils all the scoring they would need.

It wasn’t easy, however, as Divine Child put multiple runners on base in the fifth and sixth innings, but was unable to bring another run home.

“They put tons of pressure on us, and we were fortunate to persevere,” said first-year Gaylord coach Tony Vaden. “Our girls have learned to stay calm, and they will take advantage whenever a pitcher makes a mistake.”

Gaylord’s Alexis Kozlowski rounds second base during her home run.The Falcons scored their lone run in the second inning on a single from senior Allison Surella. Isabella DePaulis led Divine Child (28-8) with two hits.

Gaylord was able to hold off the Falcons the rest of the way behind the pitching trio of junior Avery Parker, Radulski and sophomore Aubrey Jones.

Parker went the first three innings and allowed two hits and one run, Radulski allowed four hits in 2 2/3 innings, and Jones shut the door in relief – coming on with two on and two out in the top of the sixth and striking out three of the four batters she faced.

“I just wanted to come in and get the job done for my team,” explained Jones, the younger sister of junior standout Jayden Jones, who is out for the season with a broken wrist.

“It stinks that she can’t play right now, but she’s our biggest cheerleader. It just shows how many good players we have.”

Sophomore Jessica Nelson pitched a gem for Divine Child, allowing just five hits in six innings against the powerful Gaylord lineup. Nelson walked one and struck out four.

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Vicksburg celebrates during its Division 2 Semifinal win Thursday at Secchia Stadium. (Middle) The Bulldogs’ Peyton Smith readies to make a play. (Below) Gaylord’s Alexis Kozlowski rounds second base during her home run. (Photos by Adam Sheehan/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)