Coloma and Millington to meet in the D3 final after fine pitching performances in Friday's semifinals
East Lansing - So much for senior leadership.
While Millington's softball team has played in numerous big games over the last three seasons, the Cardinals have no seniors on their roster. That lack of experience, however, didn't seem to bother Millington in Friday's 5-3 win over Sanford Meridian in a Division 3 semifinal at Michigan State.
Millington stranded 11 runners, fended off a seventh inning rally as Sanford Meridian left the tying runs on base and wound up dodging three errors in making Saturday's 3 p.m. final against Coloma.
Even with those issues, the lack of even one senior on a club that starts seven juniors and two sophomores wasn't enough to keep the Cardinals from bidding for the school's first state championship in any sport.
"A lot of us have played together since we were eight," said Millington pitcher Gabbie Sherman, who tossed a seven-hitter and struck out 11. "We've had time to grow up together and get confidence. We've handled (experience) well. We've played against some good Class A and B teams and that's built my confidence as a pitcher."
Millington (39-2) has won 17 games in a row following a 15-game winning streak earlier in the season. The program is 112-12 over the last three years.
The Cardinals jumped to a 2-0 second inning lead on an RBI single by Sydney Bishop and back-to-back doubles by Sabrina Gates and Elizabeth Bees. The lead was upped to 5-1 at the end of six, including an RBI single by Bishop, who had three singles and was on base four times.
Millington coach Greg Hudie said no one would recognize that his team doesn't possess a senior without looking at the roster. Millington has outscored its last four tournament opponents, 39-4, has five .400 hitters in a lineup that has reached double digits in runs 22 times and is two one-run losses (Unionville Sebewaing and Clarkston) from a perfect season. Those aren't numbers from a team lacking composure, Hudie said.
"They're very mature," said Hudie, whose club is ranked No. 1 by the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association. "They've played in a lot of big games and that helps and they've seen a lot of good pitchers. Obviously, that helps the batters. They're very prepared for not having a senior. You couldn't tell if you came to one of our practices or saw a game. We have leadership."
Sanford Meridian (27-15) got an RBI single from Audrey Kielpinski in the second inning and Baleigh Hill drove in one of the team's two seventh-inning runs.
If there was one part of the win that Hudie wasn't thrilled with it was leaving 11 runners on base, including six in scoring position.
"We left way too many runners on; we had too many 1-2 pitches against us,": he said. "But it's very cool (playing for a state title). It's a moment we'll never forget. I have so much confidence in these girls. We practice and train the right way."
Coloma's Jaidyn Hutsell threw a four-hitter as the Comets continued a torrid state tournament run with a 5-1 win over Clinton in Friday's semifinal. Hutsell, one of two Coloma senior pitchers with an ERA under 1.50, struck out four and walked one. Hutsell and Skyler Crisenbery have combined for 35 wins.
Coloma (37-3) has now outscored seven tournament opponents, 56-5. Clinton, which had a 29-game winning streak snapped, finishes 37-2.
Clinton's staff had given up two runs or less in 11 of its last 13 games, but found itself down 2-0 after three innings following a sacrifice bunt by Morgan Wagner in the first and an RBI single by Wagner, a senior catcher, in the third inning. Wagner leads the team in RBI, doubles, and homers.
Coloma added three runs in the sixth inning on a bases-loaded double by senior outfielder Kayla Yore.
Payton Hernandez drove in Clinton's only run with a single in the sixth.
Coloma had seven hits off starter Renee Hoffman, who struck out three and walked five.