The Saline High School girls’ softball team advanced to the championship game at the Saline Invitational fast-pitch softball tournament on Saturday in Saline. The Hornets went a perfect 3–0 in the opening pool play against teams from Belleville, Regina and Carlson.
Saline opened their round-robin play against the Belleville Tigers. The Tigers jumped out to a 1–0 lead in the first inning without the benefit of getting a hit against Saline’s starting pitcher sophomore Elaina Walker. Three walks and an error staked the Tigers to the early lead.
The lady Hornets quickly erased that deficit in the bottom of the first. Walker got a one-out single and then stole second. Walker advanced to third on a single by senior Kelsey Alexander.
On the very next pitch, Alexander stole second. Sophomore Abigail Kleinschmidt walked to load the bases. They all scored on a double to the right center field fence by junior Alexandra Pace. The lady Hornets led 3–1 at the end of one.
The Tigers staged a two out rally in the top of the fourth, getting singles from Haley Billingham and Madison Mikulski. Both scored on a double by junior Cassidy Brendtke, to tie the score at 3–3.
Saline grabbed the lead back in the bottom of the fifth when Alexander hit a solid single to center. Alexander, who runs like the wind, stole second and scored on a single by Kleinschmidt, to give Saline a 4–3 victory.
In game two, the Hornets were taking on the Regina Saddlelites, an all-girl high school in Warren. Regina had dismantled Carlson High School in their first game 11–1. Regina was ranked #4 in the state, a Division II school, opting to play in Division I.
“I knew we needed to get after them from the beginning and score runs. A lot of runs,” said Saline Head Coach Alicia Seegert. “Regina is a very good team and there is no keeping them from scoring runs, so we need to score and keep the pressure on them for the entire game.”
Her team took those instructions to heart and played perfect softball. Saline lost the coin flip and was the visiting team, meaning they would be batting first.
Senior Ashley Heren led off with a single and then stole second. A single by junior Madison Shelton put runners of first and third with no outs.
Kleinschmidt was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. Pace then grounded out third to first, with the runners not able to advance. Junior Isabella Darmos smacked a sharp single to left to score Heren.
Junior Emma Schwartzenberger hit a solid single to center scoring two and Darmos scored when Regina made an errant throw to second. The Hornets staked their pitcher Alexandra Pace to an early 4–0 lead.
Pace got the first two outs in the bottom of the first before Regina put together three hits to score two runs. Coach Seegert’s strategy was working.
The lady Hornets kept the pressure on the Saddlelites scoring two runs in each of the second, third, fourth and fifth innings. Singles by Shelton and Alexander, and Kleinschmidt getting hit by a pitch loaded the bases. The Regina pitcher got the next two batters on a strike out and pop-up, before Schwartzenberger delivered a two-out single driving in another two runs.
Shelton knocked a solid two-out single in the third and then scored on a triple by Alexander, who then scored on a Regina error. The Hornets led 8–3 at the end of three.
Walker got a double with one out in the fourth to get things started for Saline. She scored on a single by Heren and took second on the play when Regina threw to the plate in an attempt to get Walker out. Heren was then sent home on a single by Alexander.
The Saddlelites were not going to go quiet into the night. They scored four times in the fourth on three walks, a Saline error and two hits to tighten the score at 10–7 at the end of four.
Saline scored their last two runs in the top of the fifth. Darmos and Schwartzenberger got things started with back-to-back singles. Senior Danielle Cobello hit a shot into left center, scoring both of her teammates, but was thrown out when she over ran second base.
Regina scored a run in the bottom of the fifth but Pace was able to get a strike out and a fly to center to end the game. The Hornets had an hour to get ready for the final game of the round robin matches.
In game three, Cobello took the mound for the Hornets. In the third inning, the Carlson Marauders were able to string together a single, walk and a Hornet error to load the bases. Madison Wiseman, the Marauders’ clean-up hitter, smashed a shot over the center field fence for a grand slam, giving Carlson a 4–0 lead.
Seeger kept stressing to her young Hornets to not over think things. “We are a young team,” Coach Seegert said, “so I kept telling the players to concentrate at every at bat, doing what we practice. Use everything you can to play fundamental softball.”
Again, her team responded.
Designated player Isabella Stephenson got things started with a walk in the bottom of the fourth. Following a strike out by Heren, Shelton hit a shot that the third basemen couldn’t handle and reached first on the error.
Like she had done all day, Alexander calmly smacked a shot to center sending Shelton to second. Kleinschmidt singled to load the bases. Pace hit a bullet to the shortstop who threw to third cutting down Shelton but Stephenson scored.
Darmos then delivered a shot to center which sent the baserunners home to knot things at 4–4 at the end of three.
The Marauders regained the lead in the fourth but the lady Hornets tied it in the fifth. In the fifth, Alexander thrilled the crowd with her aggressive play. She hit a solid single right up the middle. Alexander advanced to second on a stolen base and took third on a wild pitch. Kleinschmidt drew a walk. Pace hit a fly ball to center, Alexander tagged up and scored to tie the game at 5-5.
The game remained tied until the Hornets came up to bat in the bottom of the seventh.
Heren led off with a walk on a full count. Shelton reached base on an error by the Marauders’ first basemen. With runners at first and second, the Marauders’ coach intentionally walked Alexander, loading the bases.
Kleinschmidt made the Marauders pay when she hit a sharp grounder to second who threw home but not in time to cut down the hard-charging Heren, who was called safe by the home plate umpire, ending the game with Saline winning 6–5.
Following the team’s come from behind victory, Seegert gathered her players to talk about the win, and to get them ready for the championship game.
“We have one more game to play. Have fun, and take advantage of every at-bat, every play in the field. You did great and I am very proud of you,” Seegert said.
Every kid, every player should have to opportunity to play in a game with a storybook ending. The championship game against the Eaton Rapids Greyhounds wasn’t that opportunity.
The Hornets sent Alex Pace to take on the Greyhounds. Eaton Rapids scored seven runs on eleven hits, while Greyhound pitcher junior Grace Lehto limited the Hornets to one run on four hits, recording eight strike outs, cruising to an 8–1 win, and the tournament championship.
Following her team’s loss in the championship, Coach Seegert had nothing but praise for her team.
“To go 3–1 in a tournament with this many good teams playing, I am very, very happy. I hope the girls got some confidence in themselves,” Seegert said. “We have two big games coming up against Chelsea and Pioneer. I hope everyone now knows that we are a team that is very tough to beat.”
Indeed, they are coach. Yes, indeed.
The Hornets get back into action on Monday when they will travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Pioneers with games at 4 and 6 p.m. They will then travel to Chelsea to take on the Bulldogs on Wednesday. Games in Chelsea are scheduled for 4 and 6 p.m.
SALINE POST THREE STARS:
1st Star: Kelsey Alexander (8 hits, 2 RBIs, 7 runs scored)
2nd Star: Emma Schwartzenberger (3 hits, 4 RBIs, 1 run scored)
3rd Star: Isabella Darmos (3 hits, 4 RBIs, 2 runs scored)