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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.