Whiteford, USA Win Big to Line Up Power-Packed D4 Decider

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

June 17, 2022

EAST LANSING – The Ottawa Lake Whiteford softball team has been an offensive juggernaut this entire postseason.

Not much changed in Friday’s Division 4 Semifinal.

The No. 2-ranked Bobcats registered 13 hits and used a big second inning to blank Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart 10-0 in 5 innings at Secchia Stadium.

Whiteford (40-4) will play reigning champion Unionville-Sebewaing in Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. Division 4 Final. The Patriots shut out Pickford 13-0 in the other Semifinal.

The Bobcats, who have advanced to the Semifinals four times over the last six years, have outscored their last four MHSAA Tournament opponents by a combined 48-0.

“We can score runs in a few different ways, which obviously is a big advantage, and because we’re so fast and aggressive on the bases that does force the issue for a lot of teams,” Whiteford coach Matt VanBrandt said. “When you know we are going to be running, sometimes you hurry too much defensively, and that’s to our advantage.”

Whiteford jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning. Junior Alyssa VanBrandt’s single to right field turned into an early run after a fielding error by the Irish allowed her to sprint all the way home.

“I did not expect that to happen,” Alyssa VanBrandt said. “He was waving me home and I was like, ‘I hit a grounder, why is he waving me home?’ But that felt amazing.” 

Senior Berlynn Keller followed with a solo home run over the centerfield wall.

The Bobcats poured it on in the second inning with seven runs on seven hits to take a commanding 9-0 lead.

The early barrage of runs helped set the tone. 

“Anytime you can get ahead of good teams at the end of the season, it can be a real momentum shift,” Matt VanBrandt said. “And it helps our pitcher stay calm. She knows we can typically score, and it gives her a little more confidence.”

Alyssa VanBrandt and Adrianna VanBrandt, along with Karlei Conard and Shaylin Alexander combined for eight hits.

Ambrelle Billau drove in a pair of runs with a single during the decisive second inning. Sophomore pitcher Unity Nelson tossed a two-hitter and fanned 11 in five innings of work. 

“Our whole team has confidence in everyone up and down our lineup, and Unity has been amazing,” Alyssa VanBrandt said. “She hasn’t hardly made any mistakes in our games, and she’s done really well when the pressure is on.”

Sacred Heart (27-12) was making its first appearance in the Semifinals since 2012. The loss snapped a nine-game winning streak.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been here and I wanted them to experience this, so we got what we wanted out of this,” Irish coach Josh Wheaton said. “I would've liked to put up a little better fight, but anyone that was here to see this game saw one of, if not the best team in the state of Michigan. That is some legitimate next-level talent right there, and that's why they are here a lot.”

Click for the full box score.

Unionville-Sebewaing 13, Pickford 0 (5 innings)

The Patriots had no trouble advancing to the Finals for the third straight season behind a powerful offense and stellar pitching.

Senior Laci Harris threw a gem, and the offense supplied plenty of support.

This has been Harris’ first season as lead pitcher after playing third base the past three for the top-ranked Patriots.

Unionville-Sebewaing/Pickford softball“It means a lot to me to finish in a Final like this because this was my first and only season to be our No. 1 pitcher,” Harris said. “I threw a lot of curveballs, and it was my best pitch. They weren’t touching it at all.”

Harris struck out 10 and walked one. Her bid for a no-hitter ended with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning when Finley Hudecek singled.

“Her pitches were working today, and she overpowered them,” USA coach Isaiah Gainforth said. “When her pitches are working good, she’s always going to give us a chance to win.

“This is something as a little girl she’s dreamt of, to be the pitcher that gets her team to the state championship. A senior in the circle is a good thing to have.”

The Patriots have won four of the last six Division 4 championships, including the most recent two in 2019 and 2021.

“You always want to get to the last week of the season and play in the last game, and literally we can say we are playing in the last game,” Gainforth said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s what we’ve worked for and prepared for, and for it to come to fruition is good, but we’re not done yet. We still have one more tough one ahead.”

USA scored runs in each of the first three innings.

The Patriots exploded for six runs in the third inning, with five coming before Pickford could get the first out. Sophomore Gabrielle Crumm slapped a two-run double to the wall to put the Patriots ahead 9-0.

USA added three more runs in the fifth. 

Crumm went 3-for-4 with four RBI, while Rylie Betson added two hits and three RBI and Harris helped her cause with two hits and a pair of RBI.

A historic season came to an end for the Panthers (25-15-2), who won the program’s first District title en route to the Semifinals.

“This was an amazing run,” second-year coach Matt Hudecek said. “Districts was our goal, and then after that this was bonus softball. We caught fire in Regionals and were able to get down here.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Whiteford’s Shaylin Alexander sprints to first base during her team’s Division 4 Semifinal win Friday. (Middle) USA’s Laci Harris fires a pitch with a Pickford runner on second.


Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)