South Lyon East jumps on rival South Lyon early, winning 8-4 to capture third district title, first in Division 1
SOUTH LYON — It was one of those moments where the Softball Gods reach down and meddle in the momentum of a contest, instantly altering its course.
As hard as South Lyon East leadoff hitter Emma Loveland cracked the second pitch she saw toward the outfield wall, South Lyon center fielder Kinsey Nally had a bead on it, and reached out to make a spectacular (and potentially home-run robbing) play.
Then the ball squirted up the webbing of her glove … and dropped over the wall.
“That’s one of those freak things, that just happened,” South Lyon coach Dan DePaulis said. “That’s softball.”
It wasn’t the last time the Cougars would barrel up a pitch from Lions ace Alexis Bonk — a pitcher who’d had their number over the last three seasons — as they jumped on her early, and kept piling on runs for an 8-4 win in Monday’s weather-delayed district championship game.
“Emma’s home run off the glove to start off the whole thing was just crazy fortunate softball. The Softball Gods smiled on us, and once we got going, we just never stopped,” South Lyon East coach Paul Nieto said. “That really turned the game around all of a sudden, and we were right in it. It was exciting.”
The win clinched the East program’s third district championship trophy — they also won in 2015 and 2017, down in Division 2 — but this is the first time they’ve won as a Division 1 program.
East (20-14) advances to Saturday’s regional at Hartland, where they’ll take on Farmington at 10 a.m. The host Eagles are on the other side of the bracket, facing White Lake Lakeland.
The Lions (26-8-1) struck first in the game, getting a leadoff double from Madalyn Keller to start the game, and bringing her around to score on an RBI single by Kendra Blackie.
With a 1-0 lead, and Bonk — who was 4-0 with 36 strikeouts in four career appearances against East — in the circle, the Lions had to feel pretty confident.
“Yeah, you feel good about that,” DePaulis said. “Alexis wasn’t her best today, and she’ll tell you that, but usually when she’s not her best, she’ll find a way to get it done. So you gotta give credit to East for getting as many hits as they did against her.”
After Nally tracked down a hard shot to center by Ashley Dameworth, the Cougars got two on for Lauren Sciborski, who laced one over the left-field fence for a three-run homer, and a 4-1 lead.
“Really, the most important one was with Emma, to come right back and make it 0-0 again, or 1-1. Then of course, with Lauren’s … once she hit that home run, the belief started. The belief starts, and the momentum just carried us through,” Nieto said. “Especially with high school girls, once the emotion gets going, the momentum gets rolling one way or the other, it can carry you right through a game. That’s kind of what happened to us today.”
And the Cougars did believe.
“I think that when we played them earlier this season, a lot of us got in our heads, because we knew she was a rise-ball pitcher, and like ‘Hey, how are we going to attack this?’ Today we were in attack mode, like ‘We are going to pound her. We are going to get our pitch, and pounce on it, and attack.’ I think everyone was loose, our energy was crazy in the dugout. So I think it just went to everyone else, and filtered down the line,” Sciborski said. “She’s a great pitcher. She’s performed so well throughout the season, it’s great to get a win over her. Kudos to her. She pitched a great game.”
The Cougars had a game plan of laying off Bonk’s rise-ball, and it worked.
“She’s probably the best pitcher we’ve seen in two years. She’s fantastic. The ball’s hard to hit. The girls just barreled it up. It took us three games to get at her, but they figured it out,” Nieto said. “We did all high stuff for all of our practices. Everything high. Kind of wanted to stay off the rise-ball until she brings it down, had a plan of ‘Make sure she brings it down.’ As she brought it down, that’s where we were making contact.
“She throws so hard, it’s on you so fast, that you have to make a decision.”
The Cougars added a run in the third on an Allyssa Hollo double, setting up Laney Czajkowski’s sacrifice fly to make it 5-3 after the Lions had cut the lead back to one in the top of the inning. South Lyon got it to 5-4 with a run in the top of the sixth, but East answered with a three-run rally in the bottom of the inning, fueled by a Loveland double, a bloop RBI single by Dameworth and a two-run single by Sciborski.
That gave the sophomore catcher a five-RBI day, not bad for a player who didn’t even think she’d be able to play this year because of a persistent back injury.
“Oh, my god this is crazy. My voice is gone, because I’ve been screaming so much. The whole team was feeling it today. We got to school, and were like ‘Oh, we got it …’ Even coach, after we lost to South Lyon twice, said ‘I feel we’re going to come back in districts, and beat them,’” Sciborski said. “It’s such a team effort. Everyone participated today. It’s crazy how happy I am that I got to be back and be a part of this.”
The Cougars got a gutty effort in the circle from Jennifer Hartman, who danced in and out of trouble just enough to keep Nieto sending her back out.
South Lyon cut the Cougars’ lead to one in third, scoring two runs on a Blackie RBI triple and a throwing error, then cut it back to one again, at 5-4, when Blackie walked to lead off the sixth, and eventually scored on Riley Bourlier’s RBI groundout. But Hartman was never really in a huge jam.
“They’re a good-hitting team, and she kind of kept them off-balance with her drop-ball,” said Nieto, who had Melanie Cosens warming up several different times. “I was ready a couple different times, but she just kept getting outs. She’s not going to strike you out, but she’s just going to get outs. She continued to do it. … She just kept getting outs. It’s not all about striking people out. We have a solid defense behind her, and we don’t usually make many mistakes. I think we had one mistake the whole game, and you’re going to win championships if you’re not kicking the ball around.”