Vicksburg, Richmond make unlikely pair for Division 2 title gameSoftball  |
East Lansing - It's a championship matchup that nobody saw coming.
Vicksburg came into the state Division 2 softball tournament unranked, having lost eight regular-season games.
Richmond managed to crack the honorable mention list in the final coaches' poll, but that meant at least 10 teams were considered better championship contenders than the Blue Devils.
But when Vicksburg rallied from 5-0 down to take down No. 2 Livonia Ladywood, 7-5, and Richmond took out No. 3 Escanaba, 5-2, in semifinal action on Thursday at Michigan State, an unlikely title matchup was created.
Vicksburg (36-8), which had never advanced beyond the regionals until this year, will face Richmond (31-9) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday for the Division 2 championship at Michigan State University.
Vicksburg, in particular, carries a major chip on its shoulder. The Bulldogs have proven themselves worthy of a championship shot, beating No. 9 St. Joseph in the regional semifinals, No. 10 and defending-champion Wayland Union, 14-2, in the quarterfinals and now No. 2 Ladywood in the semifinals.
"We haven't even been honorable mention," Vicksburg coach Paul Gephart said. "We've beaten teams that are ranked and haven't been given any respect at all. Yeah, it's awesome. Between Tuesday and today, we've earned a little bit of respect. We just find a way. I always tell them, 'Find a way.' We didn't really hit the ball well, but we found a way."
The Bulldogs benefitted from eight walks they received from Ladywood pitchers Rozlyn Price (six) and Alexa Flores (two).
Junior catcher Grace Stock came to the plate four times for Vicksburg, but didn't have an official at-bat. She walked three times and had a bunt. One of her walks forced home a run on a 3-2 pitch.
"I was confident up to bat," Stock said. "I tried to swing at good pitches and let the bad ones go by and get on base to help my team. I did whatever it took. Get on base, score runs and be smart at the plate. We got on base any way we could and used our strengths."
Ladywood (32-13) jumped out to its 5-0 lead with three runs in the first and two in the third. Flores led off the game with a double and scored when Cecilia Werner doubled right after her. Werner scored on a single by Elizabeth Kemp.
A two-run homer by Price over the 220-foot sign in center field made it 5-0 in the third.
"I know my team has my back and they can hit," Slancik said. "Whether I give up a home run, base hit or whatever, we can come back strong. We never quit. It all comes down to stress, if you can take the pressure. That's why I practice. I worked my whole life for this, and it's happening. It's like a dream come true. I know God put me in this position for a reason."
Vicksburg began its comeback by scoring two runs in the bottom of the third, with three walks, two wild pitches, a passed ball and one hit helping deliver those runs.
The Bulldogs took the lead in a bizarre fourth inning in which they scored five times without hitting a ball out of the infield. Two runs scored on bases-loaded walks, with another crossing on a wild pitch.
Ladywood coach Scott Combs pulled his standout pitcher, Price, after her sixth walk of the game with one