The State Champs! Top 25 Michigan softball teams for 2019
With the weather finally starting to warm up, and teams returning from various school breaks, it’s time to look at the teams that could wind up at Michigan State’s Secchia Stadium in June, hoisting the big wooden mitten. Some of them are the same old faces, but there are also a sprinkling of newer contenders mixed in, as we run through the top 25 teams overall, then add in a handful of additional contenders from Divisions 2, 3 and 4.
Here are the State Champs! Network top softball teams for 2019:
1 CLARKSTON (39-3, D1) — When the Wolves got to the semifinals in 2017, riding a couple of stellar upperclassmen and a big group of freshmen, everyone sort of penciled them in for a trip back to Lansing last season. Except the Wolves lost in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Hartland, 3-2, forestalling what had seemed a foregone conclusion.
That team graduated the left side of the infield in Miss Softball Paige Blevins (Central Michigan) and Hannah Chadwell (Oakland), but returns a ton of talent.
That core of freshmen are now juniors — All-American catcher Hannah Cady (.577, 8 HRs, 52 RBI), all-state 2B Sierra Kersten (.475, 26 RBI, 9 extra-base hits) and all-state 1B Abbey Tolmie (.580, 5 HRs, 25 extra-base hits, 37 RBI, 73 runs) — and committed to Northwestern, Michigan and Central Michigan, respectively. Kersten slides over into Blevins’ spot at shortstop, while senior Anna Skvarce (LF) and juniors Nyah Ansel (CF) and Abbey Barta (RF) are experienced outfielders.
Senior Olivia Warrington (Detroit Mercy) is the staff ace, going 28-3 with a 1.516 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 152.1 innings pitched. She’ll get help from Tolmie and Barta in the circle.
2 HOWELL (29-11, D1) — The Highlanders have been steadily building toward this since Ron Pezzoni took over five seasons ago, turning themselves first into contenders then perhaps favorites, after losing in the semifinals to conference rival and next-door neighbor Hartland. The coach’s younger daughter, first-team all-stater Sydney Pezzoni, may have graduated, along with two other starters, but the cupboard is still plenty full, especially since the Highlanders get senior Maddie Gillett (Carson Newman) back from missing her junior season with an ACL injury. As a junior, Gillett hit .511 with a school-record 65 RBI. Combine her offense with that of first-team all-staters A.J. Militello (Sr. OF, Utah) and Avery Wolverton (Soph. 1B/P), and it’s a plenty potent attack to go with the pitching of junior Molly Carney (Notre Dame), who has 50 wins over her first two high school seasons. Junior C Skye Grant (Northern Illinois), sophomore SS Maddie Springer and junior OF Maddy Heilner made the Highlanders a solid defensive unit, as well.
3 BAY CITY WESTERN (33-5, D1) — The Warriors are built how you’d want to construct a team from scratch, with experience and talent up the middle. Senior Tauri Hintz (all-state DP, .389, 6 HRs) and junior Adaline Ziehmer (all-region, 18-2, 124 strikeouts) rotate in the circle and at first base, while four-year starting catcher Megan Mann (HM all-state, .461, 8 HRs, 40 RBI, Lansing CC) calls her own game, and runs the show on the field. Western also has seniors at CF in Karlie David (Delta CC, .430, 37 runs) and 2B in McKenna Berger (all-region), and juniors at SS in Bristol Bruzewski and in RF with Addie Cooley (all-region), who hit .458 with 17 extra-base hits last year. The only spot the Warriors are a bit young is with sophomores at 3B (Emily Lewis) and LF (Savannah Sprague). It’s a battle tested, veteran group that lost in the regional finals to Alpena, 5-4 in 9 innings, last season.
4 SOUTH LYON (28-7, D1) — While high school softball has become an increasingly offensive game, you still need pitching to win, and the Lions have two very, very good ones juniors Alexis Bonk (Wayne State) and Lena Monteith (Central Michigan). Bonk went 17-5 with 199 strikeouts and a 1.886 ERA last season, earning honorable mention all-state honors.
In all, the Lions return 12 players from last year’s team, which lost 4-2 to eventual runner-up Hartland in eight innings in the regional title game. South Lyon has seniors in the key spots up the middle — CF Kinsey Nally, SS Madalyn Keller and 2B Julia Ness — along with junior Olivia Vitale (Saginaw Valley) behind the plate. Sophomore 3B Riley Bourlier and junior LF Kendra Blackie round out the returners.
5. RICHLAND GULL LAKE (26-10, D1) — The Blue Devils — who have bowed out in the regional finals in consecutive years — will be young at several key positions, but they’ve still got all-stater and third-team NFCA all-American Lauren Esman in the circle, which gives them a fighting chance. The Michigan commit was 22-6 with 235 strikeouts and a 1.14 ERA as a junior, hitting .587 with eight homers and 44 RBI (after hitting .675 with 91 RBI and 21 home runs as a sophomore). Seniors Elena Chrisman (OF/P) and Katelyn Jerke (1B, .337, 15 RBI, 19 runs), juniors Kaitlyn Lord (2B, .319) and Hannah Lord (OF, .361) and sophomore Ashley Kramer (3B, 15 RBI, 19 runs) all return to starting roles. Sophomore Savanna Disbrow and freshman Mandy Esman take over at shortstop and catcher, respectively, for the graduated Shelby Martell (Eastern Illinois) and Ashton Whitman (Taylor University).
6. WARREN REGINA (25-8, D1) — The Saddelites had eight seniors on last year’s semifinal squad, graduating the entire outfield and three-quarters of the infield, including Penn State-bound Melina Livingston, but still returns plenty of talent.
Primary in that are senior P Marisa Muglia (13-2, 2.06 ERA, 111 K/24 BB, Saginaw Valley State, HM all-state) and senior SS Leah Munson (Toledo) and junior C Samantha Rhodes. Muglia and Munson combined to drive in 76 runs in the middle of that Saddelite order.
Regina has made 10 trips to the semifinals, winning titles in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2015.
7. CALEDONIA (29-6, D1) — The Fighting Scots finally broke through for the program’s first title last season, but graduated do-it-all pitcher and hitter Sammie Gehrls, the 2018 Total Softball Player of the Year. How well they can replace her innings in the circle will determine how able they are to defend that title.
The Scots had just four seniors on last year’s state title team, OF/1B Lauren Vincent, P/OF Shelby Jansens, 1B/LF Alyssa DeGood and P Gehrls Only two of those seniors hit, though, meaning the Scots return seven of nine spots in the lineup intact.
Those include senior 2B Ashleigh VanZytvelt (.364, 41 runs, 22 RBI, 11 extra-base hits), junior SS Emmalee Hamp (.424, 34 runs, 31 RBI, 16 extra-base hits), junior CF Abby Mitchell (first-team all-state, .471, 11 HR, 39 RBI), senior C Taylor Cross (.426, 36 RBI, 10 extra-base hits), senior 3B Brooklynne Siewersten (.330, 15 RBI, 23 runs), senior DP Jadon Huyser (.329, 12 runs) and junior RF Julia Becker (.356, 20 runs, 19 RBI).
Hamp (46 IP, 2.89 ERA, 39K/15BB), Becker (4.1 IP, 4.85 ERA) return with the most innings pitched from last season, and get the first crack in the circle to replace Gehrls.
8. WALLED LAKE NORTHERN (28-6, D1) — The top of the Knights’ order looks different this year, with all-staters Hannah Bunker (UMass), Sam Harris (Central Michigan) and Courtney Callahan (Michigan State) graduating over the last two seasons, but if they can meld the returning players with the new talent, they’ll be just where they have been the last few years — competing deep into the postseason. Northern has won three straight district titles, making it to the quarters two years ago, but losing to Hartland in the regional semifinals last season. Back are honorable mention all-staters McKenzie Knight (Sr., P/3B/1B) and Toledo commit junior Jenna Kroll (3B/SS), along with three all-district juniors in Allisa DiPrima (P/OF), Shay Ciaramitaro (3B/1B) and Kaycee Lohr (C). Around them, there are a handful of newcomer juniors and sophomores, as well as a quartet of talented freshmen — Caitlyn Mullins (P), Marisa Mazoway (P/1B), Kiana Morgan (C) and Zoe Radinski (OF) — who could contribute early. Unlike recent seasons, there’s no true workhorse ace on the pitching staff, but it’s a deeper pitching corps than coach Kristen Woodard has had to work with in her eight seasons at Northern.
9. HARTLAND (33-6, D1) — The Eagles made postseason dramatics a habit, earning a berth in their first title contest in 22 seasons, losing to Caledonia in the title contest, 6-4.
They graduated two thirds of their infield in a pair of first-team all-staters in Madelin Skene (3B) and Bri Robeson (2B), and an honorable mention all-stater in Delanie Grundman (1B), along with Hannah Mourad (DP) and Claire Minsker (CF). The Eagles also have a new coach in former Eastern Michigan catcher Taylor Wagner. That amount of turnover is going to impact a team, but the Eagles still have a ton of impactful talent returning with a large senior class — including Sam Nagel (3B), Brooke Cowan (C/2B), Devan Dziobak (1B), Jordan Piatek (CF), Miranda Millington (2B/C), Maddy Cheney (LF) and Sam Fritz, along with three sophomores off very good high school debuts in RF Kelsey Zampa, SS Delaney Robeson and first-team all-state pitcher Rachel Everett.
10. LAKE ORION (32-7, D1) — The Dragons made their second trip to the quarterfinals (after a 22-year absence) in 2016, but hasn’t made it out of districts the last two seasons, because it’s been the Wolves of Clarkston making out of a murderously tough district that also includes OAA Red powerhouse Oxford. This year’s edition of the Dragons has eight seniors, including Sarah Conley (U/P), Courtney Kolp (1B/P), Hailey Melchert (U), Abigail Maresh Kimberly Sosnowski (IF), Natalie Shifferd (P), Paytin Shadaia (3B) and Tessa Nuss (CF). The Dragons return both pitchers from last year, in Kolp and Shiffered, while Conley — a transfer from Kansas, who will play at Oklahoma Panhandle State — could be a key addition to the mix in the circle. Melchert (Franklin Pierce Univ.) hit .481 with 55 RBI last year, while Shadaia hit .540 scored 57 runs and drove in 54. Nuss (Binghamton Univ.) is a three-time first-team all-stater who hit .654 last season, scoring 79 runs, and came into the year having stolen 85 consecutive bases, 41 of them in 2018.
11. ESCANABA (31-3, D2) — The Eskymos lost their entire infield and two thirds of their outfield to graduation … and yet are still the prohibitive favorite in Division 2.
They still have Gabi Salo, Dakota Cloutier and Lexi Chaillier. And nobody else does.
As a sophomore, Salo (Wisconsin) went 21-3 with 287 strikeouts and 13 walks, allowing just nine earned runs all season (0.40 ERA), and posting seven no-hitters and two perfect games. In the postseason, her ERA was 0.30, as she shut out five of the seven opponents she faced, striking out 83.
A senior RF, Chaillier hit .511 with six HRs and 24 stolen bases in the regular season last year, and can take over the game with her speed, glove and arm, as well. Junior Cloutier (Ferris State) is the other end of the successful battery, and went 2-for-3 in the title game last year, driving in two runs. Juniors Maddy block (2B) and Jalin Olson (CF) join the starting lineup, along with seniors Heather Bergstrom (3B), Georgia Lehto (LF), sophomore Nicole Kamin (1B) and freshman Carsyn Segorski (SS).
12. CANTON (20-7, D1) — Canton lost to cross-campus rival Salem in extra innings in predistricts, then lost eight seniors to graduation — including the entire infield — making them an extraordinarily young squad in arguably the toughest division in the state, the KLAA West.
What’s to like?
Well, the Chiefs do have a solid young corps to build around, including sophomore Anna Halliday (P), and freshmen Faith Cramton (1B), Kelsey Nader (CF) and Jenna Caruso. Juniors Shae Scott (SS) and Stephanie Schmunk (C/SS), along with seniors Ellie Caruso (OF) and Calle Farber (IF) provide veteran leadership. The Chiefs have advanced beyond regionals five times, losing in the 1992 Class A title game, and in the 1998 semifinals.
13. MILLINGTON (38-3, D3) — The Cardinals lost none of their starters from last year’s D3 runner-up squad, including three first-team all-staters, and a pair of honorable mention all-staters. Kent State commit Gabbie Sherman (two-time all-state) entered the season as Millington’s career leader in pitching wins (67-9 record) and strikeouts (660) with a 1.13 ERA, while C Sydney Bishop (three-time all-state) is a .539 career hitter with 33 home runs and 171 RBI, owning most of Millington’s single-season and career offensive marks. Junior 1B Darrien Roberts (first-team all-state) hit .449 with nine homers and 59 RBI, while senior CF Leah Denome and junior 1B Madi Hahn earned honorable mention all-state honors. Millington’s core group of seniors have a 114-15 record since joining the varsity as freshmen.
14. ALLEN PARK CABRINI (30-10, D3) — Since 2002, the Monarchs have been frequent visitors to either Battle Creek or East Lansing, making 10 appearances in the quarterfinals, half of those trips resulting in a spot in the semifinals and four times ending with trips to the title game.
Cabrini won the Division 4 title in 2006 and 2007.
Last year’s run ended with a 5-1 quarterfinal loss to Clinton, but there’s every reason to think Cabrini might be right back there again this season.
Cabrini returned nine starters from last year’s team, including sophomore Mackenzie Noah in the circle with junior Viviana Gonzalez, along with juniors Michaleigh Vallimont (SS), Emma DelCotto (OF), Caleigh Muglia (1B) and Mackenzie Schick (3B), and seniors Madison Buerkle and Madelyn Kugelman. The biggest addition is freshman C Lillian Vallimont (Northwestern), who can mash.
15. GRANDVILLE (D1) — The Bulldogs have five players still remaining who played in the 2017 D1 championship game — where they lost to Macomb Dakota, 4-3 in eight innings — and look primed to make another trip.
They’ll have to replace honorable mention all-stater Kaitlyn Orme (1B), but seniors Maggie Bentley (OF), Kylieigh Moll (SS), Jenna Eddie (2B), Lexi Dukesherer (P/OF) are all veterans who played in the game against Dakota. Junior Taylor Buiter (3B/C, Ferris St.) can crush the ball, while Dukesherer splits the pitching duties with junior Sam Slager. The Bulldogs are a veteran crew with four seniors and eight juniors.
The unbeaten Bulldogs, who had their season end in a 13-9 district championship game loss to Jenison last season, have already taken two from Caledonia and one from Rockford in the early season.
16. ALPENA (28-13, D1) — The Wildcats have been one of the most consistent Northern Michigan programs over the last decade, making semifinal trips in 2008 — when they lost in the title game to Garden City — and last season, to add to their quarterfinal berths in 1998 and 1999.
Last season might’ve been the a precursor to another long postseason trip or two.
A season ago, the Wildcats captured their eighth straight Big North Conference title, then lost to eventual state champ Caledonia in quarterfinals. This year’s squad returns eight players from last year — losing just three to graduation — but has just six seniors.
Leadoff hitter Emma Fraser (P/3B, Alma College, first-team all-state) is a four-year starter, and shares the pitching duties with juniors Jade Schultz and Abbie Funk (2B, HM all-state), while seniors Lilly Lewis and Kali Spomer can also throw. Junior Allie Funk will be back behind the plate, or in the outfield. Alpena has plenty of positional versatility, and are led by the senior class, and a deep roster.
17. SOUTH LYON EAST (20-8, D1) — The Cougars have a lineup that can mash with anyone, with senior CF Emma Loveland (Grand Valley), junior SS Lucy Cronin (Central Michigan), junior 2B Ashley Dameworth and junior 1B Olivia Sabin, along with a bevy of talented sophomores — C Lauren Sciborski (Northwestern), 3B Allyssa Hollo, LF Molly Nieto, RF Laney Czajkowski. The pitching staff — led by junior Melanie Cosens and freshman Delaney Lis — will get plenty of run support.
The problem for East’s postseason hopes, though, is that — even though the Cougars host districts — they’ll have to go through cross-town rival South Lyon to advance. Which is probably not all that dissimilar to all the years in Division 2, when they consistently ran into powerhouse Livonia Ladywood.
18. ANCHOR BAY (30-7, D1) — There’s no question that the Tars will miss two key losses to graduation in Macomb County Player of the Year, Aleah Marra, who is now the starting second baseman at Rutgers, as well as No. 1 pitcher Skye Norris, but there’s still plenty of reasons to believe they continue their streak of three straight district titles, if not more, come the postseason. Anchor Bay returns an all-senior outfield in CF Jenna Casey (first-team all-state), RF Jenna Catalupo and LF Callie Tatum, who missed last year with injury. Behind those three, the Tars have a quartet of talented sophomores — C Amanda Schick, 1B Danielle Keighley, SS Genevieve Decker and 2B Taylor Wolfe — to back up this year’s No. 1 pitcher, junior Taylor Keighley. The Tars lost in the regional semifinals to eventual semifinalist Regina, 10-9.
19. RICHMOND (26-8, D2) — Richmond has been in the quarterfinals each of the last three seasons, beating Vicksburg in the 2016 D2 title game, and losing to Ida in the 2017 championship contest. Last season, the Blue Devils lost in the quarterfinals to Dearborn Divine Child.
Richmond made the run without stellar pitcher Erin Shuboy, who missed nearly the entire 2018 season after tearing her ACL early on, but she’s back healthy for this year. Shuboy was 16-3 with a 1.05 ERA as a freshman, leading the Blue Devils to a state title, then was 22-3 with a 1.75 ERA as a sophomore. Ashley Tetlow and then-freshman Shea VanScoter (HM all-state at 2B) picked up the pitching slack a year ago, and both return to help Shuboy with the load in the circle. Paige Tomson CF/C (HM all-state, .491, 31 RBI) also returns for the Blue Devils, who have to replace first-team all-state SS Carley Barjaktarovich (Lehigh) and HM all-state 1B Autumn Warn.
20. MACOMB DAKOTA (24-8, D1) — The Cougars split the Macomb Area Conference Red title with Anchor Bay a season ago, and have four starters back.
That group includes CF Lauren Bobowski (Harvard), 3B Katie Courneya (Lawrence Tech) and Central Michigan commit SS Samantha DiCicco (.490, 34 RBI).
The Cougars are just two seasons removed from their first state title, and three removed from their first trip to the final eight.
21. CLINTON TOWNSHIP CHIPPEWA VALLEY (25-10, D1) — The Big Reds won the Macomb Area Conference’s White Division last season — coupling the league title with a district crown for the first time in nearly a decade — and have moved up to the MAC Red, where they’ll challenge Macomb Dakota and Anchor Bay. The Big Reds are led by senior captains Marisa Vermiglio, Vanessa Twomey and Abby Wochaski, and are counting on sophomore pitcher Jordan Kavanaugh.
22. MATTAWAN (D1) —The Wildcats have made six trips to the semifinals since 2011, winning titles in 2011 and 2013, and taking runner-up status in 2012.
Senior catcher Maddie Duell (Western Michigan, HM all-state) hit .438 with 15 extra-base hits and 34 RBI last season, while junior left fielder Kendra Cardoza hit .431 with 14 doubles and scored 40 runs. Olivia Fee (Davenport Univ.) pitches and plays first for the Wildcats, hitting .346 with 14 extra-base hits.
23. EATON RAPIDS (36-7, D2) — The Greyhounds spent years as a dominant team in the Lansing area without getting a sniff of a deep postseason run, until last year’s sophomore-dominated group led them to their first regional title since 1981, and all the way to a semifinals loss to eventual champ Escanaba.
All but two of the starters last year were underclassmen, and just two starters — 1B McKenzie Anderson and SS Aubrie Benward — were lost to graduation.
The returning group is headed by first-team all-staters in juniors P Grace Lehto (23-4, 1.62 ERA, 237 Ks; .520, 60 RBI, 11 HRs, 32 runs) and DP Shelby Kunkel (.411, 46 RBI, 51 runs, 9 HRs). That group of nine sophomores from a year ago included starters in CF Peyton Benjamin (.421, 56 runs, 27 RBI, 17 extra-base hits), 2B Kyra Acker (.343, 35 RBI, 19 extra-base hits, 53 runs), 3B Shelby Warner (.359, 32 RBI, 24 extra-base hits, 36 runs), RF Morgan Vanderwall (.385, 36 runs, 31 RBI) and LF Kendi Richardson (.276, 21 RBI, 24 runs). Senior C Sydney Clymer joins that group of starters.
24. ALLEN PARK (26-5-1, D1) — First-year coach Mike Kish takes over a Jaguars program that has won eight straight Downriver League titles and 14 straight district titles, and returns almost everyone from a squad that lost to Plymouth in the regional finals last season. Once they figure out what the new staff expects, the Jags have enough talent to make a considerable dent in the postseason. That starts with four-year starting catcher Allysa Lake (honorable mention all-state) and 1B Kelsi Littleton (first-team all-state), who hit 17 home runs. Allen Park is strong up the middle with seniors in P Sydni Uhlenberg, SS Abbie Slate and CF Brenna McCalister. Juniors Avery Kish (2B), Kyleigh Richards (OF) and Karina Gregory (3B) round out the starting nine, while freshmen Madison Kool and Madilynn Ramey could contribute right off the bat.
25. BYRON CENTER (27-5, D1) — Two of the five losses for the Bulldogs last season came against eventual champions Caledonia (D1) and Coloma (D3.
Byron Center was bumped out of districts by the Fighting Scots, but returns six starters from last year’s team, and are faster and deeper in pitching despite the losses to graduation.
The Bulldogs start eight seniors, including four-year starter and honorable-mention all-state 3B A.J. Gillis (.514, 44 RBI, 10 HRs), and three-year starters C/DP Kenzie Domeier (.427, 26 RBI, 6 HRs) and SS Bri Nelson (.362, 23 RBI). Seniors 1B Kendahl Dyer (.391, 30 RBI, 6 HRs) and 2B Rylynn VandenBerg round out the infield, while a pair of freshmen, McKenna Hinkle and Cierra Laska will flank senior CF Maddie Holverstot.
The Bulldogs need to replace the innings from all-conference P Janelle Baar, but sophomores Kristina Baar and Sydney Tilma, and freshman Laska will be in the pitching rotation with senior Elayna Busing (11-1, 2.038 ERA, 62 Ks).
The only run to the elite eight for Byron Center resulted in a 10-inning D2 championship-game loss to Chelsea in 2002.
OTHER KEY CONTENDERS IN LOWER DIVISIONS:
SPRING LAKE (40-1, D2) — The Lakers — who came into the season having won 78 straight conference games — have made consecutive trips to the quarterfinals, losing to Stevensville Lakeshore and South Haven, but seemed to be poised to push the program even further this year.
Honorable mention all-state pitcher Leah Vaughn (28-1, 0.83 ERA, 235 strikeouts; .555, 70 RBI) is back, as is four-year starter Jenna Core (.433, 11 HRs, 48 RBI), who came into the season already holding the program’s career record for homers (25). Sophomore SS Alicia Mumby hit .396 with 27 runs and 27 RBI as a freshman, while senior C Molly Poole, a Cornerstone commit, hit .344 with 44 RBI last year.
STEVENSVILLE-LAKESHORE (30-12, D2) — Lakeshore graduated some key players, but have plenty of talent back — and just one key senior on the roster — to make a run.
Some combination of juniors Laney Mead and Isabella Najera, sophomore Grace Connelly and freshmen Gianna Kerschbaum and Anna Chellman will handle the pitching duties with Taylor Simon having graduated, but the pitching should keep the Lancers in games. When not pitching, Mead and Najera will split time in CF, while Connelly and Kershbaum will patrol the corners.
Senior 3B Nadia Amicarelli hit .422 with 34 RBI last season, while Meghan Younger, last year’s C, this year’s 2B, hit .413 with 34 RBI, and junior SS Sierra Ciesielski hit .377.
Lakeshore has made 13 trips to the quarterfinals, winning seven championships (B — 1995, 1997; D2 — 1998, 2004, 2010, 2011, 2014) in eight title-game appearances.
MUSKEGON OAKRIDGE (32-6, D2) — If it weren’t for Escanaba …
The Eagles have won their conference, city and district titles the last three seasons, but lost to the Eskymos in regionals each time. Division 2 is Escanaba’s to win again, but Oakridge has the pitching and experienced lineup to be one of the challengers. Senior Kayla Fessenden (Aquinas), an honorable mention all-stater in 2018, is the team’s No. 1 pitcher, and will finish her career with the program’s wins and strikeouts records, as well as the home run record as a hitter. Junior Brie Pastor (Aquinas) is the team’s 1-A. Halle Jennings (SWCC) is a four-year starter at catcher, while SS Sophia Wiard — an all-state basketball player headed to Toledo for hoops — was a first-team all-stater in softball last year, and is a .500 career hitter. Juniors Kyle Upson (1B) and Macy Whipple (LF) return to starting roles, as does sophomore Hayden Ruel (CF). A talented trio of freshmen, Jasmine Pastor (IF/OF), Brooklyn Galdeen (IF/P) and Delaney Ruel (OF) will contribute immediately.
SANFORD MERIDIAN (27-15, D3) — The Mustangs went into last year’s postseason on a nine-game skid, then made it all the way to the Division 3 semifinals before losing to top-ranked Millington, 5-3.
Meridian graduated just two seniors from that squad — CF Haley Maynard and 3B Abby Person — giving them plenty of returning firepower.
Three of the returners — seniors Peyton Grice (P, .311, 33 RBI), Mya Hall (SS, .448, 21 RBI) and Baleigh Hill (1B, .438, 4 HRs, 37 RBI) — were honorable mention all-staters a year ago.
Those three are joined by returning starters in seniors Karley Kent (C, .356, 4 HRs, 21 RBI) and Audrey Kielpinski (DP), along with sophomore Jenna Holzinger (OF), while junior Markie Hooton will share the pitching duties with Grice.
CENTREVILLE (36-6, D3) — The Bulldogs are one of those teams that people seem to forget about at the start of a new season, specifically because they bumped up to Division 3 after beating Coleman for the D4 title a year ago.
Having lost just two seniors to graduation, Centreville’s certainly got the returning talent to make noise in its new division.
Junior McKenzie Sheteron (2B, first-team all-state) missed the title game for her sister’s wedding, but helped the Bulldogs get there by hitting .469 with 16 extra-base hits, 46 RBI and 65 runs, while Junior Kenleigh West-Wing (CF, first-team all-state) hit .466 with 54 runs scored.
In the circle, it was a close to a three-way split of the innings between Sheteron (7-2, 1.53 ERA, 34 strikeouts), departed senior Emma Russell, and Hannah Duchene (HM all-state) went 10-3 with 1.34 ERA and 104 strikeouts, and hit .55 with 19 extra-base hits and 67 RBI.
Senior MaKenzi Troyer (SS) hit .414 with 18 extra base hits and 58 runs scored, while junior Joanna Larsen (3B) hit .595 with 28 extra-base hits and 74 RBI, striking out just four times.
Junior Jaedan Blades (C) hit .461 with 27 walks, 56 runs scored, while junior Olivia Deeds (LF) hit .410 with 10 extra-base hits, 35 RBI and 41 runs scored.
CLINTON (37-1, D3) — In the last decade, Clinton’s softball team has made seven trips to the quarterfinals, six of those resulting in semifinal appearances, winning D3 titles in 2011 and 2012. Last year’s squad lost just once in the regular season before falling to eventual champ Coloma in the semifinals.
The Redskins graduated six seniors, including four-year ace Renee Hoffman (26-0, 0.768 ERA), but senior Payton Hernandez went 8-1 with a 4.38 ERA in 10 starts, while sophomore Libbi Fair threw in seven games, with a 2-0 record and a 5.63 ERA.
Clinton does return four starters in 2B Hernandez (.392, 46 RBI, 15 extra-base hits, 33 runs), C Fair (.513, 56 RBI, 23 extra-base hits, 55 runs), senior SS Rilee Szczesniak (SS, .514, 31 RBI, 10 extra-base hits, 55 runs) and senior RF Taylor Rothman (.438, 6 RBI, 43 runs).
ROGERS CITY (31-6, D4) — The Hurons lost five key players from last year’s runner-up squad — including a pair of all-staters in SS Kayla Rabeau (Mott CC), last year’s D4 Miss Softball and 3B Hannah Fleming (Alma College) — but they’ve reloaded pretty well.
Volleyball and basketball all-stater Taylor Fleming — who earned all-state honors in softball in CF as a sophomore, before moving to first last season — will be the new shortstop, while four-year starting catcher Amanda Wirgau and honorable mention all-state pitcher Kyrsten Altman will be constants, as coach Karl Grambau (435-157 in 17 seasons, 230-48 since 2012) shuffles the other parts around in the hopes of an eight straight district title, and a fourth straight regional. Rogers City has finished as runners-up in 2001, 2004, 2013 and 2018, winning the 2015 championship.
COLEMAN (30-10, D4) — The D4 runner-up Comets lost their top pitcher, all-stater Faith Barden (Lawrence Tech), and two of their top three hitters, including all-state shortstop Autumn Tubbs. But Coleman has three four-year seniors, and six players with three or more years of varsity experience. Senior 3B Jaden Berthume (Northwood) hit .450 with 46 RBI and 46 runs, earning first-team all-state honors, while senior CF Makailyn Monson was honorable mention all-state after hitting .372 with 53 runs scored. Senior 2B Kenzie Miller (Delta CC) and senior SS/P Annabelle Bovee (Mid-Michigan CC) will both play in college, as well. Juniors Abigail Tubbs (OF), Kylie Herkel (C) and Zoe Merrilat (OF) fill out the starting lineup, along with freshman Katelyn Pnacek, who can play SS, C and OF.
Coleman lost in quarters in 2015 and 2016 and in the semis in 2017, before losing in the finals last year. The Comets have been to the quarters or beyond eight times since 2001, winning the D4 title in 2005.
UNIONVILLE SEBEWAING AREA (31-9, D4) — The Patriots graduated seven seniors from a class that helped secure two state titles to go with four championships each in conference, district and regional play.
A 2018 freshman class that included Maci Montgomery (C, first-team all-state), Grace Williamson (RF), Brynn Polega (1B) and Emma Stecker — all but Stecker started — should help to ease that blow, though. Seniors Rylee Zimmer (SS, first-team all-state), Nichole Schember (2B) and Delanie Pavlicek (DP, HM all-state) also return for this season.
Since 2000, USA has been to the quarterfinals 17 times, the semifinals 14 times, and to the title game eight times, winning championships in D3 (2006, 2007) and D4 (2009, 2015, 2016).
HOLTON (32-6, D4) — The Red Devils have gone 130-26 over the last four seasons, winning four straight district titles, losing in last year’s regional finals to Frankfort. Morgan Murat is a three-time all-stater behind the plate, while Haylee Brant and Kylie Gould earned honorable mention all-state honors as pitchers last season, and Kaylie Piper was an all-state shortstop. Gianna Reed (3B), Maddi Bossett (1B), Madi Baker (OF), Sydney Byrnes (OF) and Kennedy Greene (OF) fill out the starting lineup that is possibly the most talented in the five yers Kirk Younts has coached Holton. The Red Devils lost in the semifinals in 2015 and 2016, and in the quarters in 2017.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH FOR (By division, in alphabetical order):
Grand Blanc, Hudsonville, Jenison, Lapeer, Lowell, Oxford, Rockford, Waterford Kettering
Allendale, Carleton-Airport, Chelsea, Detroit Country Day, Edwardsburg, Essexville Garber, Flat Rock, Frankenmuth, Freeland, Imlay City, New Boston Huron, North Branch, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, Riverview, Spring Lake, Swan Valley, Tecumseh, Wayland.
Byron, Coloma, Dundee, Gladstone, Monroe St. Mary CC, Napoleon, Negaunee, Pinconning, Reese, Standish-Sterling, Stanton Central Montcalm.
Allen Park Inter-City Baptist, Beal City, Fowler, Indian River Inland Lakes, Kalamazoo Christian, Merrill, Onaway, Ottawa Lake Whiteford, Rapid River, Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest, Rudyard, Three Oaks River Valley.