Vicksburg Not Done After Historic Run
By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com
May 23, 2017
VICKSBURG — The first time Grace Stock played softball, she absolutely hated it.
The Vicksburg senior was just 8 or 9 at the time, and that dislike lasted all of one game.
In her second game, “I played second and there was a ball that was hit above me, and I went on tip toes and reached out my mitt,” she said.
“My eyes were closed and I caught it. After that, I just loved it and wanted to play all the time. I have a picture of it, too, which makes it even better.”
She may not be playing all the time, but she and her Bulldogs teammates hope to be playing well into the postseason.
Last year, her team became the first in Vicksburg school history to make an MHSAA championship game, losing 2-0 to Richmond in the Division 2 Final.
Losing just two seniors from that team, “people ask, reflecting back on last year, are your expectations the same?” fifth-year head coach Paul Gephart said. “I say, last year is in the past, and this year we’ve got to focus one game at a time.”
After flying under the radar last season, this year’s Bulldogs are ranked fourth in state with Districts set to start next week.
“It’s absolutely extra pressure,” Gephart said. “I think it motivates other teams. They’re going to bring their best effort against you.
“I think it’s bulletin board material for other teams and kind of fuels them. Now we’re on the other side of that, and there is that pressure as far as expectation.”
The Bulldogs take a 25-9-1 (16-2 Wolverine Conference) record into the final week of the regular season. They have clinched the conference title for the second consecutive year.
Three key seniors – Stock, Carlie Kudary and Shaidan Knapp – earned all-state honors last year and have been starters since their freshman season.
Sadie Martin – the team’s second pitcher and an “awesome” outfielder, Gephart said – and “really solid” first baseman Raquel Rice round out the senior class. Gephart said in his mind he refers to the seniors at the Fab Five.
“All five of them, the four years they’ve been here, the team has been academic all-state,” he said. “I think that’s huge that they’re that intelligent and that driven.
“The way it works in softball, individual academic all-state you get that award your senior year, and all five will get that award this year.”
Stock is second on the team with a .487 batting average and 44 RBI.
“She is a solid catcher, all-around catching,” Gephart said. “Offensively, defensively, she’s the best catcher I’ve been around or associated with in female softball.”
Stock was behind the plate and Avery Slancik on the mound for every postseason game last season.
“I used to be a pitcher, but I wasn’t too good at that. But I liked that I was in every play, so catching suited me well,” Stock said.
Slancik, a junior, started playing travel ball with the Portage Hurricanes when she was 8 and was coached by her dad, Michael Slancik.
“Dad actually coached nine of the 11 girls we have on the team,” she said. “Back in the day I was a pitcher and a catcher, but my brother was a catcher so I chose to pitch.”
When she was a freshman, her father put up a barn with three batting cages inside.
“Me and my brother (Trace), who is a freshman at Hope and plays baseball there, and a neighbor are out there all the time practicing and getting better every day.”
Slancik has been the Bulldogs number one pitcher since she was a freshman and earned all-state honorable mention last year.
“He’s coached baseball his whole life until I started playing softball,” she said. “Whenever we went to his house, we’d always play catch.
She and Stock are best friends, which will make for an interesting season in another year. While Stock will play softball at Calvin College after graduation, Slancik plans to play at Hope the following year. “It’s going to be fun,” Slancik said. “They’re big rivals, but we’re going to stay best friends.”
Kudary, meanwhile, is a slap-hitter and one of the fastest players on the team.
“She gets on base a lot for us and since she bats leadoff, that gets us going right away,” Gephart said. “As a freshman, initially she was on the JV and we brought her up when we had an injury, and she’s been a starter ever since.
“She has so much speed, there are teams who would have really good hits in gaps, but she gets to them. That makes us really solid up the middle with Avery pitching, Grace catching, Shaidan at shortstop and Carlie at center.”
Knapp leads the team with a .510 batting average and 50 RBI. Her grandfather, Ed Knapp, got her started playing softball.
“He’s coached baseball his whole life until I started playing softball,” she said. “Whenever we went to his house, we’d always play catch.
“I’d ask to go to the park to hit instead of playing at the playground. I’d want to hit softballs. He’s been with me through the whole experience.”
Ed Knapp, who has coached various sports since 1964 and baseball until 1998, is Gephart’s assistant. He is also a member of the Michigan High School Coaches Association and Vicksburg halls of fame.
Knapp’s sister, Tailynn, is a freshman infielder – but they don’t get special treatment from their grandfather.
“He doesn’t really treat me like a grandchild, but at the same time, he’s such a sweet old man he acts like everyone’s his grandchild,” Shailyn said. “It’s nice to be able to see him on the field because I know him off the field. He’s a really fun guy.”
Ed Knapp said there is a down side to coaching his granddaughters
“People are always going to say, yeah, they’re playing because he’s the coach. They always say that until they look at how they play. No coach can survive if they play favorites.”
On the up side, “It’s a lot of fun watching them progress and get better. They really listen. It’s easy to work with them because you can do it in more of a grandfatherly approach.”
He hopes to instill words of wisdom to the players from his decades of coaching.
“You have to have fun. That’s the main reason kids play sports, is to have fun,” he said.
“I just cringe when I hear some of these coaches screaming and yelling at their players. You can just see those girls with their heads going down.”
Team bonding plays a big role in Vicksburg’s success.
“The key is how close we are and just trusting that the person behind us has each other’s back,” Slancik said. “For instance, if one of us gets out, the next person will get another hit.
“If one person makes an error, the next person can step up and say, ‘It’s all right, I’ve got you.’ We’ve been implementing that into our game.”
Stock recalled how the team also got a boost from the community when it returned from the MHSAA Finals last year.
“Fans were lining the street and, we got escorted by police officers and fire trucks, so that was pretty cool,” she said. Later that summer, “There was a party at the football field for family and friends. We got all of our awards, and parents told us how proud they were of us.”
Of course, Vicksburg was disappointed to end the Cinderella season with a loss. But being one of two Division 2 teams standing at the end was special.
“You never want to lose,” Kudary said. “We have to look at it from a better perspective and realize we were the second team in the state to get there.
And yet, “We have to keep our focus and keep working hard at practice. We can’t let last year’s season interfere with this year’s season.”
The other junior on the team is third baseman/outfield Lauren Goertler.
The lone sophomore is pitcher/infielder Kali Yant, and other freshmen are catcher/outfielder Camille Wadley and third baseman/pitcher Rylie Richter.
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Vicksburg pitcher Avery Slancik warms up before an inning during last season’s Division 2 Final at Michigan State’s Secchia Stadium. (Middle top) From left: Carlie Kudary, Avery Slancik, Shaidan Knapp. (Middle below) Vicksburg’s Grace Stock, last season catching the championship game and also as a child catching with her eyes closed. (Below) From left: Bulldogs head coach Paul Gephart and assistant Ed Knapp. (Middle photo provided by Grace Stock.)
Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
January 4, 2023
Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.
She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.
See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:
Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.
Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.
A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.
Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.
Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.
Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.
Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.
A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.
PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.