Grandville tops Clarkston behind Muilenburg's gem to advance to Division 1 Final for first time since 1982
East Lansing – After tearing her ACL and undergoing surgery last November, Ellie Muilenburg’s prospects of playing softball in 2017 were looking bleak, considering it’s an injury known to keep athletes sidelined for nearly a year, if not longer.
But not only did Grandville’s senior ace return to the diamond this spring, but in Thursday Division 1 semifinal, she turned in a gem to lead the Bulldogs to a 2-1 win over Clarkston, sending Grandville to the state finals for the first time since 1982.
In the Division 1 Final, Grandville will face the winner of the Macomb Dakota-Mattawan semifinal at 12:30pm on Saturday at Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State.
Muilenburg, who returned to action in the middle of the regular season, said that the rehab process was one that was exhausting, but she was motivated to return because of the fact that she knew her team was capable of winning a state title.
“It was mentally and emotionally and physically draining, but I knew that I could do it for my team,” she said. “We’ve been saying it since day one that this was a state championship team. I knew we could make it.”
In a game that turned out to be a pitcher’s duel between Muilenburg and Clarkston sophomore Olivia Warrington, Grandville struck first in the top half of the sixth inning when Muilenburg hit a hard ground ball to third base, but an overthrow to first base allowed two runs to score, giving Grandville a 2-0 lead, which would be all of the run support that the Grandville ace would need.
Warrington scattered just four hits and didn’t allow an earned run, while striking out six in seven innings of work for Clarkston (32-10).
Clarkston wouldn’t go quietly as the Wolves would load the bases in the bottom half of the sixth and would cut the deficit to 2-1 after a sacrifice fly from Sierra Kersten.
But Muilenburg would bounce back to get out of the sixth with a strikeout with the go ahead run on first and would later retire Clarkston in order in the seventh to secure the win.
“As a pitcher, it’s really a mental game,” Muilenburg said of her mentality in the final two innings, looking to close out the win. “So mentally, I just have to think that I’m better than you and I can get this, this is my game. So I just turned it around and throw how I do.”
Muilenburg allowed just two hits and one run while striking out nine in seven innings in the win for Grandville.
“All year, she’s been there, she’s a four year player,” Grandville head coach Troy Ungrey said. “She’s the reason why we’re here and obviously her teammates too, but just the fact that she commands the circle as well as she does.”
While she is just eight months removed from her surgery, Muilenburg has been at the top of her game this spring and that’s shown throughout the postseason as allowed just two runs in a 5-2 regional final win over Caledonia and just one run in Grandville’s 2-1 quarterfinal win over Midland.
Muilenburg admitted that she knew the road back from her injury would be a difficult one, but said she’s felt strong throughout the season and also credited her teammates for their play throughout the season.
“After my ACL injury, I thought it was going to be a really tough battle coming back,” she said. “It was, but I’ve come back stronger than I’ve been in my whole career. It feels really good, but it helps when I have defense behind me and we’re staying disciplined and just hitting the ball.”
Macomb Dakota 6, Mattawan 3
East Lansing - Macomb Dakota advanced to the Division 1 softball final for a second straight year with a 6-3 win over Mattawan on Thursday evening.
Dakota would strike early in the game as the Cougars plated four runs in the first inning with the help of a two RBI double off the bat of senior starting pitcher Kendahl Dunford to put the Cougars on top, 4-0 early on.
After Mattawan would cut the deficit down to 4-3 after an RBI fielder's choice from Joanna Bartz and an RBI single to left field off the bat of Alexis Taube in the third inning, Dakota would add a pair of insurance runs in the sixth with an RBI single by Arieanna Grammatico and an RBI double from Julia Sayles to take a 6-3 lead into the seventh.
Dunford allowed three runs on seven hits and recorded two strikeouts in her seven innings of work to earn the win for the Cougars.