Freshman Sammie Gehrls steals the show as Caledonia defeats Mercy, 5-2, in Division 1 semifinal
East Lansing – It’s not often a freshman can compete at a high level, especially in Division 1, but Sammie Gehrls doesn’t seem to be fazed by it.
Gehrls pitched out of three tight situations including the seventh inning when Farmington Hills Mercy had the tying run at the plate with one out and Caledonia held off the Marlins for a 5-2 victory in a state semifinal on Thursday at Michigan State University.
Caledonia (34-4), which had never won a regional until this season, will play Warren Regina for the title on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
Regina (26-6) defeated Mattawan, 7-1, in the other semifinal.
Regina, which started the season 3-11, is making its first final appearance since 2007.
Gehrls, who earned the starting assignment in the circle early in the season over junior Taylor VanZytveld, allowed nine hits, struck out eight and walked just one.
“This is great,” Gehrls said. “I don’t know what to say. Yeah, I was nervous. We’re here. I just told myself I can’t have this intimidation (factor). Just stay concentrated and get each pitch.”
Caledonia took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second as McKenzie Butgereit and Danielle Oracz hit back-to-back doubles.
The Fighting Scots made it 3-0 in the fifth when leadoff hitter Ashley Miller tripled home a run and later scored on an error.
The next inning Butgereit belted her seventh home run, the team’s 49th, to make it 4-0.
“I haven’t hit great all year,” Butgereit said. “I came up just thinking I had to do something for my teammates.”
Mercy quickly got back in the game in the bottom half of the inning when Cari Padula walked and Nicole Belans homered to make it 4-2.
Mercy (27-4) wasted good scoring opportunities in the second and third innings before breaking through.
Padula doubled and Belans singled, and with runners on second and third Gehrls struck out consecutive batters to end the inning.
In the third Abby Krzywiecki singled with two outs, Jordan Johnson was hit by a pitch and when Molly Murphy singled Krzywiecki was tagged out after making too wide of a turn at third.
“That was a bad break,” Mercy coach Alec Lesko said. “It was a situation we could have capitalized on.
“It’s a tough game. It’s built on failures. Whoever gets the timely hits usually wins.”
Trailing 5-2, Mercy started its threat in the seventh with consecutive singles by Alex Sobczak and Sophia VanAcker after the first batter was retired. Krzywiecki, the No. 3 hitter, popped out to third base on a 3-1 pitch for the second out.
“Oh my gosh,” Gehrls said of the tight situation. “I’m thinking, we got to get this girl out. I just had to focus on each pitch. I went with on outside fastball, not hanging over the plate.”
Johnson lined out to second base to end the game.
Caledonia coach Tom Kaechele credits much of Gehrls’ maturation process to VanZytveld, who starts in center.
“Sammie is one of the most focused players I’ve coached,” Kaechele said. “(VanZytveld) has been a great mentor to her. She’s a great pitcher, too. Sammie is always asking her for advice.”
Regina trailed 1-0 before twice in the top of the fifth on a single, two sacrifice bunts, a throwing error and an RBI single by Riley Hison.
The Saddlelites broke open the game with a five-run sixth. Regina had six hits in the inning and all five were scored with two outs. Again it was Hison who highlighted the inning with a two-run double.
“It’s nerve-racking,” Hison said. “The last couple of practices we’ve been working on bunting and the little things. We weren’t doing those early in the season.
“We were more pumped up in the late innings and started to hit the ball.”
Marissa Tiano limited the Wildcats (30-13) to four hits in notching the victory.
Emily Koperdak took the loss.
“It feels great,” Tiano said. “I was praying for runs. I was off in the quarterfinals (8-2 victory over Allen Park). Today I was pumped.”