Caledonia wins first title, Gehrls tops career on top as the Scots defeat Hartland, 6-4, in D1 final; Coloma takes D3 title
East Lansing — If older sister Alexa Gehrls put Caledonia softball on the map, Sammie Gehrls has cemented the Fighting Scots’ place in the history books.
The younger sibling finished what the older started, pitching No. 7 Caledonia to a 6-4 win over No. 9 Hartland in Saturday’s Division 1 softball championship game at Michigan State’s Secchia Stadium, clinching the program’s first title.
It was redemption, too, for the Scots as they lost in the final just short three seasons ago..
“Oh, yeah, for sure. Just knowing how much coach (Tom) Kaechele has been through,” Sammie Gehrls said. “He’s been here for 17 years, and we got a taste of it my freshman year, and now to finally to be able to seal the deal, and finish it is a huge deal, for our community, and our family and our friends.”
It’s a huge step for the Caledonia program, which took seven seasons of turnaround under Kaechele before it claimed a district title, and eight more before he was able to pilot it to his first regional title.
“This is the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work. … This program was in rough shape when I took it over. We started getting kids to believe in playing softball again at Caledonia, because it was kind of a joke for a while there. I had two seniors on that first team that went all four years, even though they only won three games. They just proved to me that there was a work ethic in Caledonia,” Kaechele said. “All of a sudden, we started getting kids that believed, and that was our whole thing. If you believe, we can do it. And now, 17 years later, here we are, state champions. Now, I believe.”
It’s easier to believe when there’s something to emulate.
For Sammie Gehrls, that was her older sister, Alexa, who went on to pitch collegiately at Saginaw Valley State University.
“Sammie’s sister, Alexa, put us on the map. We went against Hudsonville when they won their first state championship (2012) in regionals. Fourteen innings, three and a half-hour game in the regional final, lost 2-1. That put us on the map,” Kaechele said. “Sammie watched that game, and said ‘I’m going to be there someday.’ She’s here, and she’s a state champ.”
Gehrls remembers the game vividly, even if it was almost half her life ago.
“I was probably 8 or 9. It was a really long time ago, but she’s been a huge role model for me, and someone that’s been my biggest supporter. She’s really helped guide me along the way. I’ve learned a lot from her, and to be able to apply that now, is just huge,” she said, admitting it was a dream to take the Scots a step further than her sister had.
“Once I aged a little bit, for sure. But her going through that, making a deep run, getting a taste of it, and being able to build upon that, grow as a player, and be able to look up to her. She played in college as well, so growing up, I was able to follow her, follow in her footsteps, and been able to make my own mark.”
If she was going to make her mark in Saturday’s game, it would mean holding off a Hartland offense with a penchant for coming from behind.
This time, though, rather than falling behind, the Eagles (33-6) jumped out to a 3-1 lead, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first against an amped-up Gehrls. Bri Robeson led off with an infield single, then Clare Minsker and Madelin Skene walked to load the bases. Sam Nagel doubled to left-center to drive in all three.
“Hartland’s batters attacked, and also something that they did was they waited. They had really good pitch selection. That made it difficult. Usually you can work the corners, and things like that, and they weren’t chasing as much, so I had to be more selective as to what spots I was hitting,” Gehrls said. “I would definitely say that first inning was rough. I came out a little too amped, but coach Tammi (Marlow) always says to me ‘It’s about how you finish.’ I just had to settle in, but my team was making amazing plays and that gave us a lot of confidence, and I was able to settle in, and knew they had my back like they have this season, and we were able to finish.”
The Hartland lead would only last until the third, when the Scots took advantage of a miscue to pound out four runs on four hits. Gehrls started the two-out rally with an infield single, then Abby Mitchell followed suit. The error scored one, then a second scored on an RBI single through the right side by Brooklynne Siewertsen, and two more on a triple by Jadon Huyser.
From there, Gehrls would allow just two more hits, striking out three batters, but getting the Eagles to pop up harmlessly for the remainder of the game.
“It was that third inning, for sure (was the turning point). We had some miscues. We didn’t play super-clean defense, and no matter who you’re playing, that’s tough to come back from, that’s for sure,” Hartland coach Bob Greene said, agreeing that Gehrls settled in, and got tougher as the game went along. “Yeah, she throws up, she throws that rise-ball up. Trying to lay off that. A lot of pop-ups. Just couldn’t get the ball down. Everything was up in the air.”
Hartland scored one in the fifth on Delaney Robeson’s infield RBI single, but Gehrls would get that back for Caledonia in the top of the seventh, with an RBI single down the right-field line.
The Eagles may be in the position that the Scots were a few years ago, with a young pitcher to build around, and lots of young players returning.
“Yeah. Hard to think about that a few minutes after the game, but yeah, we feel that way,” Greene said. “It’s huge (for the community). Hartland’s been very successful in athletics, and it’s funny, this morning we were talking with the athletic director, and he said ‘It’s kind of like kids all over the school, no matter what the sport, feel like they can get here. I think this is good, this is more proof of that.”
Escanaba 5, South Haven 0 — University of Wisconsin commit Gabi Salo worked on her change-up after the semifinals in the hopes of tripping up an aggressive South Haven team, and it worked. She struck out 11 of the first 13 batters she faced, and 13 on the game, as the No. 3-ranked Eskymos (31-3) beat South Haven
It’s the first state-wide championship for the school since 1981 (Class A football).
Escanaba got a run in the first on Madison Griffin’s RBI double, then Dakota Cloutier drove in one of the runs in a pair of two-run rallies for the Eskymos in the fourth and sixth innings.
Coloma 7, Millington 6 — Top-ranked Millington (39-3) led 5-1 through four innings but couldn’t hold it as No. 2 Coloma (38-3) scored three runs in the sixth and three in the top of the seventh to rally for a 7-6 win.
Millington set a new finals-round record with three triples in the game, one of them by Leah Denome, who had a finals record-tying four hits, driving in three runs in the process.
Centreville 5, Coleman 2 — A three-run error in the fateful third inning proved to be all that Centreville (36-6) would need to upset No. 2-ranked Coleman and claim the program’s first state championship.
Kenleigh West-Wing drove in two runs and scored two for the Bulldogs, and Hannah Duchene drove in one, and gave up two runs over seven innings for the win. Faith Barden struck out six in the loss for Coleman (30-10).