Vicksburg, Richmond make unlikely pair for Division 2 title game
East Lansing – It’s a championship matchup that nobody saw coming.
Vicksburg came into the state Division 2 softball tournament unranked, having lost eight regular-season games.
Richmond managed to crack the honorable mention list in the final coaches’ poll, but that meant at least 10 teams were considered better championship contenders than the Blue Devils.
But when Vicksburg rallied from 5-0 down to take down No. 2 Livonia Ladywood, 7-5, and Richmond took out No. 3 Escanaba, 5-2, in semifinal action on Thursday at Michigan State, an unlikely title matchup was created.
Vicksburg (36-8), which had never advanced beyond the regionals until this year, will face Richmond (31-9) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday for the Division 2 championship at Michigan State University.
Vicksburg, in particular, carries a major chip on its shoulder. The Bulldogs have proven themselves worthy of a championship shot, beating No. 9 St. Joseph in the regional semifinals, No. 10 and defending-champion Wayland Union, 14-2, in the quarterfinals and now No. 2 Ladywood in the semifinals.
"We haven’t even been honorable mention," Vicksburg coach Paul Gephart said. "We’ve beaten teams that are ranked and haven’t been given any respect at all. Yeah, it’s awesome. Between Tuesday and today, we’ve earned a little bit of respect. We just find a way. I always tell them, ‘Find a way.’ We didn’t really hit the ball well, but we found a way."
The Bulldogs benefitted from eight walks they received from Ladywood pitchers Rozlyn Price (six) and Alexa Flores (two).
Junior catcher Grace Stock came to the plate four times for Vicksburg, but didn’t have an official at-bat. She walked three times and had a bunt. One of her walks forced home a run on a 3-2 pitch.
"I was confident up to bat," Stock said. "I tried to swing at good pitches and let the bad ones go by and get on base to help my team. I did whatever it took. Get on base, score runs and be smart at the plate. We got on base any way we could and used our strengths."
Ladywood (32-13) jumped out to its 5-0 lead with three runs in the first and two in the third. Flores led off the game with a double and scored when Cecilia Werner doubled right after her. Werner scored on a single by Elizabeth Kemp.
A two-run homer by Price over the 220-foot sign in center field made it 5-0 in the third.
"I know my team has my back and they can hit," Slancik said. "Whether I give up a home run, base hit or whatever, we can come back strong. We never quit. It all comes down to stress, if you can take the pressure. That’s why I practice. I worked my whole life for this, and it’s happening. It’s like a dream come true. I know God put me in this position for a reason."
Vicksburg began its comeback by scoring two runs in the bottom of the third, with three walks, two wild pitches, a passed ball and one hit helping deliver those runs.
The Bulldogs took the lead in a bizarre fourth inning in which they scored five times without hitting a ball out of the infield. Two runs scored on bases-loaded walks, with another crossing on a wild pitch.
Ladywood coach Scott Combs pulled his standout pitcher, Price, after her sixth walk of the game with one out in the fourth. She was relieved by Flores, who started at first base.
"The ball never left the infield," Combs said. "They did a good job of putting the ball down on the ground and getting a base at a time, but you can’t walk (eight) people and expect to win. The disappointing part is we probably haven’t walked (eight) in the last 10 games. That’s on us."
Vicksburg hit only three balls out of the infield in the entire game: two fly outs to left by cleanup hitter Shaidan Knapp and a single up the middle by Carlie Kudary. The Bulldogs’ other four hits were infield singles.
It’s the first time a team from Vicksburg had made it to an MHSAA championship game in any sport. The Bulldogs won championships in the non-bracketed sports of boys’ cross country (1963) and boys’ tennis (1974).
Richmond 5, Escanaba 2
Richmond broke a 2-2 tie by scoring three runs in the top of the fifth inning, reaching the state championship game for the fourth time. Richmond lost in the title game in 1985, 1998 and 1999.
"We’ve had our down points, but over the last couple of games we’ve started getting key hits and playing to our potential," Richmond pitcher Erin Shuboy said.
After having one-run leads erased in the second and third innings by Escanaba (36-3-1), Richmond took the lead for good in the fifth on a strange play.
Amy Thueme reached first on a throwing error and headed for second after the overthrow. Emma Caperton was going to stop at third, but she continued home when Thueme slid into shortstop Callie Heller, who fell on her and was shaken up.
"I saw her laying down, so I knew she wouldn’t be able to get up that fast and make the throw," Caperton said.
"She was just laying on me," Thueme said. "I didn’t realize she was hurt."
Lindsay Schweiger and Shuboy singled home the other runs in the inning. Richmond tacked on one more run in the seventh on a single by Rachel Leach.
Shuboy, who had eight strikeouts, retired 10 of the last 11 batters she faced.
"We still hit the ball hard," said Escanaba coach Jamie Segorski, whose team finished 36-3-1. "Softball’s a funny game. You miss the ball by an eighth of an inch and it’s a fly ball. You hit it square, it’s a home run. It is what it is."