By: Butch Harmon
High school softball preview
By BUTCH HARMON
A big season is in the works in area softball this spring. While the rain and cold weather of early spring slowed down area softball players, the month of May promises some big games and plenty of action. Area teams are poised for big seasons with dreams of conference titles, and several teams have big state tournament aspirations. The area also has a host of talented individuals who have drawn the attention of college softball coaches.
Following is a look at the softball landscape across mid-Michigan and the state.
Teams to watch statewide: Mattawan, Hartland, Lakeland, Hudsonville, Sterling Heights Stevenson
The Hudsonville Eagles have dominated Division 1 softball on the state level the past few season. Hudsonville defeated Mattawan in last year’s state title game and has won three out of the past four D1 state titles. Mattawan is also a familiar face in the state finals, having won the state title two years ago. This year Mattawan comes into the season ranked number one in the state and will be the team to beat.
Top local teams: Swartz Creek, Bay City Western, Rockford, Midland
After winning 35 games last season and just missing out on a trip to Battle Creek for the state finals, the Dragons of Swatz Creek are pointing to this year as the breakthrough year. They return a host of talented players, led by senior Hayley Cruthers, who has committed to Ball State University. One of the top hitters in the state, Cruthers holds 11 career school records. Last season she hit a robust .517 with eight home runs, 20 doubles, and 62 runs scored. The Dragons are also strong in the circle with the return of senior pitcher Carah Pletscher. A returning all-stater, Pletscher went 24-3 last year with a 1.62 era.
With a large group of returning players, Midland is poised for a big season. All-conference infielder Jenni Wontorcik was one of the top hitters in the Saginaw Valley League last year and leads the way for a Midland lineup that is stocked with quality hitters.
Top players in the state: Sarah Gutknecht (ss), Farmington; Sydney Hasselbach (c), Clarkston; Alyssa Huntley (p), Sterling Heights Stevenson; Sarah Johnson (3b), Mattawan; Abbie Minsker (p), Hartland
Top local players: Hannah Batschke (if), Bay City Western; Hayley Cruthers (ss), Swartz Creek; Carah Pletscher (p), Swartz Creek; Lacy Tolfree (of), Heritage; Jenni Wontorcik (if), Midland
Teams to watch statewide: Lakeshore, Ladywood, Wayland Union, Coloma
After winning state titles in 2010 and 2011, Lakeshore came up short in its bid for a three-peat last June. With the return of senior pitcher Megan Hiler, the Lancers are poised to reclaim the title this season. Hiler, a returning all-state pitcher who has committed to Ferris State University, has 51 career wins and 455 career strikeouts on her resume and is looking to help lead Lakeshore back to Battle Creek. Ladywood, last year’s D2 state champ, will not give up the title without a battle, and has an ace of its own in junior pitcher Lauren Hayes. Possibly the most potent bats in the state belong to Wayland Union. In its opening doubleheader of the season, it scored 55 runs in seven innings and swept Hastings.
Top local teams: Swan Valley, Eaton Rapids, Bullock Creek, Portland, Belding, Mt. Pleasant
Swan Valley has been the premier area team in D2 the past few season. It has reached the final four the last two years, and last June it reached the state title game where it fell to Ladywood. With junior Courtney Reinhold back in the pitching circle and in the middle of the batting order, Swan Valley is gearing up for another big season and a third trip to Battle Creek for the final four.
Bullock Creek also has dreams of Battle Creek. The Lancers return one of the premier hitters in the area in junior catcher Maison Kalina. Kalina, who has already committed to play college softball at Central Michigan University, hit .484 last spring with 31 RBI. With Shelby Bailey and April Mehl doing the work in the pitching circle, Bullock Creek will be a force to be reckoned with.
Rebuilding will be in the cards at Mt. Pleasant, but that doesn’t mean that the Oilers will be an easy out. In fact, they will be tough to handle once again with senior pitcher Alesha Davis back in the circle. Davis won 25 games last season and also hit close to .350, and she will give the Oilers a strong base to build around.
Portland will again be a major factor in the Lansing area and will feature strong pitching.
Top players in the state: Lauren Hayes (p), Ladywood; Megan Hiler (p), Lakeshore; Sierra Mutschler (ss), Wayland
Top local players: Alesha Davis (p), Mt. Pleasant; Teagan Denslow (ss), Chippewa Hills; Maison Kalina (c ), Bullock Creek; Courtney Rein (p), Swan Valley
Teams to watch statewide: Clinton, Gladstone, Springport, Dansville
Clinton has won the past two D3 state titles, and with a trio of all-state players back in the fold this season, it is a strong threat to make it a three-peat. Senior pitcher Cami Prater returns in the circle, while junior Kris Forest plays third base and also leads the offense. Springport won over 30 games a year ago, and the Spartans welcome back junior all-state pitcher Sam Bates. The Spartans also feature a hard-hitting third base player in Hannah Baum, who hit .422 last season with 38 RBI. Dansville won the Division 4 state title last season, and this year will be playing in Division 3. The Aggies return plenty of talent, led by a pair of all-staters. Senior Evy Lobdell hit .500 last year with 54 RBI, while junior pitcher Meagan Kelley went 23-4 in the circle with a 1.56 era and 204 strikeouts.
Top local teams: Meridian, Shepherd, Frankenmuth, Hemlock, Reed City, Clare
Shepherd won 25 games and a district title last season. While the Blue Jays suffered some heavy graduation losses, the return of Anna Kenny will keep them in the mix in the powerful Tri-Valley Central with Swan Valley and Freeland. Kenny hit over .400 last spring and was a force on the mound.
Meridian will have a potent offensive team this spring led by a solid group of hitters that includes Beth Stroup, Hannah Stockford, and Blake Garner.
Hemlock will also be potent at the plate, with Karli Herrington leading the way.
Frankenmuth won the Tri-Valley East last season and will be tough to dislodge from the top spot this season. The Eagles return all-state pitcher Cassidy Bender, who boasted a 1.12 era last season and struck out close to 200 batters.
Top players in the state: Sam Bates (p), Springport; Kris Forest (3b), Clinton; Evy Lobdell (if), Dansville; Cami Prater (p), Clinton
Top local players: Melissa Benchly (if), Clare; Cassidy Bender (p), Frankenmuth; Karli Herrington (if), Hemlock; Anna Kenny (p), Shepherd; Madison Riley (ss), Ithaca; Kate Saupe (p), Farwell
Top teams in the state: Onaway, Summerfield, Rapid River, Kalamazoo Christian
One thing that will be certain this season is that a new champion will be crowned in Division 4. Last year’s state champion, Dansville, moved up to Division 3, opening the door for a new champion to this June. Onaway, from the north country, is one of the challengers. It returns all-stater Megan Estep at second base, who hit close to .400 last spring, and pitcher Emily Estep, who struck out 257 batters and compiled an 0.63 era. Look for Summerfield to be in the mix at the end of the season. Summerfield won the D4 title in both 2010 and 2011 and was runner-up last season. It returns all-state players at shortstop and third base in Olivia Osrosky and Shelby Bruckner.
Top local teams: Sacred Heart Academy, St. Patrick Catholic, Vestaburg, Beal City
Sacred Heart turned in a 31-8 record last season and reached the state semifinals. The Irish are looking to take things one step further this season, and with a power-packed lineup, few teams will be able to contain their offense. Junior shortstop Sara Hansen is a dynamo who hit in every game last season enroute to compiling a .633 batting average. She also drove in 39 runs and stole 33 bases. Senior catcher Lizzie Albaugh hit .441 a year ago with nine home runs, while Lauren Sabuda (3b), Riley Terwilliger (of), and Erica Hansen (1b) all hit over .300.
Beal City will have a solid team this season led by senior pitcher Kim Rowe. The Aggies also return Chloe Steffke, who hit .450 last season, and Monica David, who hit close to .400 and stole over 35 bases.
St. Patrick finished second in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference last season. With a large group of returning players led by senior veteran Elle Lehman and junior infielder Danielle Simon, the Irish are poised for even bigger things this season. It also returns sophomore pitcher Brittni Wilcox.
Vestaburg turned in a big season last spring, as it went 26-8 overall and won the Mid States Activities Conference title. Although it graduated a number of key players, a strong core of players return. Junior shortstop Jannelle Rons is a returning all-state player. She hit over .500 last season with three home runs, while in the circle she won eight games with an era just over one per game.
Top players in the state: Shelby Bruckner (3b), Summerfield; Emily Estep (p), Onaway; Megan Estep (2b), Onaway; Olivia Ostrosky (ss), Summerfield
Top local players: Lizzie Albaugh (c), Sacred Heart; Sara Hansen (ss), Sacred Heart; Elle Lehman (if), St. Patrick; Jannelle Rons (ss), Vestaburg; Chloe Steffke (if), Beal City