D4 SEMIS: Lessons learned, Unionville-Sebewaing Area pounds Rogers City to return to title game, to face Kalamazoo Christian
EAST LANSING — Teachable moments are only important if you learn from them.
The Unionville-Sebewaing Area Patriots certainly learned their lessons after a bit of sloppy defensive play cost them a chance at a championship shot, losing in the semifinals.
They were bound not to have that happen again, cleaning things up this time around, beating Rogers City 8-3 in Friday’s second Division 4 semifinal at Michigan State’s Secchia Stadium.
“We kind of learned, I think, from some of our mistakes here last year. A lot of these girls are back, we’ve got some new girls … we just weren’t in awe. The experience factor,” said coach Isaiah Gainforth. “Last year, we kind of consumed it, and I don’t know if it got to us a little bit, but today we switched it up a little bit, got down this morning, kept the same routine, kept the same approach we’ve had in all of our tournaments.”
In the semifinals for the 15th time since 2000, the Patriots (30-9) punched their ticket to Saturday’s D4 final, their fifth championship game appearance since 2013, and ninth overall. They’ll face Kalamazoo Christian for the D4 title at 3 p.m.
Last year, the Patriots lost 4-0 to eventual champion Centreville in the semis, giving the Bulldogs three unearned insurance runs late on a trio of errors.
This year, the Patriots (30-9) made one miscue, having learned their lesson.
“Yes. Because errors, they can cost a game, no matter what. Last year we did have a couple of errors, and this year, we corrected them, and we did our jobs,” said Maci Montgomery, the team’s leadoff hitter. “We all knew we had to stay calm, we had to focus up, do our job.”
Montgomery’s job is to set the table, and she certainly did that, blasting a leadoff triple to start the game, then adding three doubles after that, scoring twice and driving in three runs.
“I think today has been the best I’ve played this year,” she admitted.
She certainly wasn’t the only one hitting the ball for USA, which punched out 16 hits.
“Couldn’t ask for a better start. It’s so important to start with an early run in any game, especially a softball game. To be able to score first was big, because it just loosens everybody up,” Gainforth said. “The last couple of days, and even Tuesday in the quarterfinal, I like where we’re at offensively. We had two really good days of preparation. We got a good scouting report on this team, the pitcher, and to put 16 hits up in the semis, you can’t ask for much more offensively.
“I’m extremely proud of the kids’ approach, their discipline, and hitting is contagious. Once someone starts it, everybody is like ‘Let me get the bat and see what I can do.’ So that was our mentality.”
The Patriots scored after Montgomery’s triple in the first, then again in the second, when the leadoff hitter drove in No. 9 hitter Danielle Harper. Rogers City scored on USA’s lone miscue — a dropped fly — in the third inning, making it 2-1, but the Patriots blew it open with a four-run rally in the fourth, highlighted by Harper’s two-run homer to left.
“Her BP sessions the last couple of days, everything hit hard. … She can hit. She can really hit,” Gainforth said. “She’s a disciplined hitter, and when you get production from top to bottom, that’s a dangerous team right there.”
Rogers City (27-8) got two back on a two-run homer by Taylor Fleming in the fifth that hit off the light pole in right-center field, but USA answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning on Montgomery’s double.
Kalamazoo Christian 6, Coleman 1
EAST LANSING — No. 2-ranked Kalamazoo Christian broke open a pitcher’s duel late, taking advantage of four Coleman errors to pull away for a 6-1 win in Friday’s first Division 4 semifinal at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium.
Kalamazoo Christian (31-8) has a pair of runner-up finishes (2014 and 2015) since the last of its seven state titles in 2013, and was making its fifth semifinal appearance in seven seasons. Coleman (35-8) was making its third straight trip to the semifinals, after finishing as runner-up in D4 a season ago.
Kalamazoo Christian’s Jayme Koning and Coleman’s Jaden Berthume went pitch-for-pitch through the first four innings, both yielding a first-inning run, but Kalamazoo Christian broke the tie when Koning led off the fifth with a double and scored on Faith Kline’s RBI single to right.
Megan Snook’s RBI single made it 3-1, then Koning’s three-run homer in the sixth broke the game open.