Area softball teams seeking to be drought-busters in 2014
Cori Mittelbrun of Troy rounds the bases during a doubleheader against Clarkston last season. Mittelbrun is one of several key returnees for this spring for Troy, which starts the season ranked No. 5 in Oakland County.
Rachel Dolland and Lake Orion rightfully have a lot of expectations for 2014 since the Dragons return a lot of players from a 32-win team last year.
In an area that traditionally has been a softball hotbed, it is hard to believe such a drought exists.
Unfortunately though, it does.
It’s been 10 years since an Oakland County school won a state title in softball since Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes won the Division 4 title in 2004, so as the weather finally warms up and the season gets going, area teams will make it their mission to try and end that streak.
Here are the area softball teams that enter the season with the best chance of making a run at a state title, starting with the top-10.
1. Farmington Hills Mercy – Those who saw the Marlins put up unheard of numbers on offense last year are probably still scratching their heads as to how they got relatively shutdown in a regional final loss to Canton. But it goes to show anything can happen in one game, and just like Canton’s Hanna Warren did in that game last year, someone is going to have to pitch a great game to beat Mercy this year.
The offense should once again be explosive since two players that either did or come close to setting records, junior Alex Sobczak (.613 BA with 17 HR and 58 RBI) and sophomore Abby Krzywiecki (.419 BA , nine HR, 33 RBI) are back to try and even approach those gaudy stats, and maybe even improve on them. Senior SS Jordan Ewald is another offensive force and all-state candidate. The key might be how well Krzywiecki (10-1, 1.57 ERA) adapts to the role of full-time ace. If she does, the sky is the limit for the defending Catholic League champions.
2. Lake Orion – All of a sudden, the softball program has built itself up to the state powerhouse level the baseball program typically is, and it’s not farfetched to think this year’s softball team will be the better of the two hardball squads this year at Lake Orion. That’s not bashing what should be another great baseball team either, but complimenting what Lake Orion has coming back after a 34-5 season last year.
The offense should be plenty powerful behind senior OF and Saginaw Valley State signee Kennedi Thomas (.398 BA, 43 RBI), junior SS Rachel Dolland (.442 BA, 42 RBI), junior 3B Alex Carpenter (.443 BA, 51 runs), senior OF Kayla Knoblock (.462 BA, 50 RBI) and junior 1B Megan Hall.
Pitching-wise, Lake Orion returns sophomore ace Sierra Gonzales, who went 22-2 as a freshman last season. As good as this year’s outlook is for the Dragons, the future looks even better since there are only three seniors on the roster.
3. Lakeland – This is going to be an unusual year initially for this perennial power in that of the 18 players Joe Alsup has on varsity, 12 of are either freshmen or sophomores (7 frosh, 5 sophomores). But many of the youngsters have already accomplished a lot in summer ball and teamed with some of the best veteran players in the county, should make Lakeland a team to be reckoned with again come the state tournament. The veteran stalwarts that will lead the way for the younger players are senior OF Madison Burgess (.512 BA, 21 RBI, 45 SB), who has signed with Saginaw Valley State, senior INF Karissa Gawronski and senior Kendall Johnson. Alsup also expects a breakout year from sophomore LHP Alexa Flores, a converted catcher he feels will be one of the county’s top pitchers. Another reason Lakeland will be so hard to play is that it will have 10 left-handed hitters, including the first six in the batting order.
4. Clarkston – There is lots of talent and versatility on the roster for the Wolves, who feature players who can play multiple positions and excel in all phases of the game. There aren’t many better all-around players than junior 2B Rachel Vieira (.508 BA, 49 RBI and 38 runs), an offensive force and slick-fielding infielder, junior U/P Candace Kitchen was honorable mention all-state last year and junior Madeline Maday enters her third season as the team’s ace. Other major contributors will be senior CF Rachel Alli, sophomore INF/C Abby Skvarce, sophomore INF/OF Mariah Hood, junior INF/OF Mikayla Blaska and senior 3B Machenzie King.
5. Troy – As usual, the Colts rightfully have a lot of expectations going into the spring, but those expectations would’ve been higher had pitcher Taylor Schmidt, a hard-throwing who really started to come into her own and become an ace at the end of last year, didn’t move to Florida over the offseason. But she did, and Troy will have to move forward. The Colts will score plenty of runs behind senior CF and Michigan State-signee Sydney Heath (.486 BA, 30 RBI, 20 SB), senior P/U Cori Mittelbrun (.450 A, led team in RBI), junior C Ashley Messina, senior LF Allie Cianciolo and senior 2B Sally Mueller. Mittelbrun, a nice control pitcher who keeps her team in games, will likely also be the team’s ace pitcher.
6. Troy Athens – Add the Red Hawks to the list of teams that can contend in a balanced OAA Red Division. In his 39th season as head coach, Dave Marr has seven starters and 11 players overall returning to the lineup, and there aren’t many two-way players in the state better than senior P Haley Zemmer (.496 BA, 52 RBI, 6 HR), who is both a premier power hitter and a dominant pitcher.
Senior SS Mary Grace Stark (.381 BA) is a speed demon the bases, and senior 1B Lauren Genereau and senior LF Sarah Watson are two other four-year players in addition to Zemmer and Stark. Sophomore 2B/P Mady Ellinger should be a valuable transfer given she will bat leadoff and be able to give Zemmer a breather pitching when needed.
7. North Farmington – The best news for the Raiders is that senior Megan Keller, a member of the USA under-18 hockey team who will play in college at Boston College, has decided to play softball this spring. That provides the Raiders with one of the top infielders and bats in the county, since she has a career batting average of .484. There’s plenty of other talented players around Keller though, especially senior 3B Nikki Wald (.460 BA) and sophomore P Alexa Cherney (21-9, 12 shutouts, 1.69 ERA, 233 K’s in 182 IP), who is coming of a sensational freshman season.
8. South Lyon – Coming off a 24-10 season and an appearance in a regional final last year, South Lyon will look to make another strong tournament run behind, although the Lions suffered a big blow when one of the county’s top players, senior Jessie Mehr, had shoulder surgery in February. There is a good chance she will be out for the entire season, but might be able to come back for the playoffs.
The good news for the Lions is that they should still be solid with senior OF Morgan Hatton, senior P Maddie Moser, senior OF McKenzie Weyh, senior C Jessie Brandon and sophomore P Lindsay Brandon comprising a good core of returnees.
9. Waterford Kettering – The makeup of the Captains roster has seemingly been young every year since head coach Al Land took over six years ago, so this year will be refreshing in that Kettering will have an experienced, veteran roster ready to contend in the KLAA North.
A reliable pitcher is always a good place to start, and Kettering has that in senior MacKenzie Norton, an outstanding control pitcher who won 21 games last season and who also hit .360 at the plate.
Other key returnees are senior SS Sarah O’Connor (.360 BA, 35 runs, 30 RBI), senior 1B Jordyn Troy (.360 BA, 5 HR, 28 RBI) and junior3B Emma Colegrove (7 HR, .414 BA, 25 runs, 40 RBI).
10. South Lyon East – The defending KLAA Central champions have plenty of reason for optimism this season, and it all starts with a gamer on the pitching rubber in senior Sydney Jones, a hard-throwing hurler who is entering her fourth year on varsity. Sophomore INF Makenzie Nieto was one of the state’s top freshman last season and will be a pillar in a lineup that will also have C Sarah Coutts.
11. Rochester Adams – The defending OAA White champions should be the favorites going into the season since the Highlanders return an experienced team that has a good balance of pitching, speed and power.
Senior Kristen Noack (.487 BA, 35 RBI) and junior P Kelly McCasland (.457 BA, 23 RBI) are the big bats in the lineup, but senior RF Megan Eggleton (.385 BA, 28 RBI) and senior CF Natalie Kinnie (.352 BA) also will be run producers.
As long as McCasland stays healthy, Adams should also be able to prevent runs in addition to scoring them with a potent offense.
12. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep – The Fighting Irish should be solid as a rock as they typically are in the Catholic League. A good core of returning players is in place, led by senior P/INF/OF Victoria Bayliss (.412 BA, 18 SB), who will take over as the team’s ace pitcher in addition to being an important offensive piece, junior C Hanna Bullard (.374 BA, 46 RBI), who was honorable mention all-state last year, junior SS Hannah Antosz and junior CF Kate Swartz (.367 BA, 24 RBI, 23 runs).
13. Waterford Mott – It will be a nice mixture of young and old for the Corsairs, who will try and improve on a 19-13 record from last year and not only contend in the KLAA North, but also be a threat to win what will be a terrific district at Lake Orion. The offense will be led by senior SS/C Eliana Brinson, senior 1B Megan Knowles, senior 2B Jenna Ciennik and sophomore CF Lexi Waynick and sophomore OF/INF Lexi Upson. Pitching-wise, junior Allyssa Thayer (12-2 2.14 ERA) has committed to Lake Superior State and should shine as the team’s full-time ace.
14. Birmingham Marian – Last season the Mustangs resembled a freshman team, because, well, they started a whole bunch of freshman on the varsity. But that group of youngsters really came together at the end of the season, so much so that they won a district title. As a result, there is a lot of promise for the future with sophomore 3B Sydney Jascoe (.488 BA, 42 runs, 7 HR, 40 RBI), sophomore C Sara Stevens (.389 BA, 29 RBI, 36 runs), junior OF Adriane Roberson (.357 BA, 24 SB), sophomore SS/2B Lauren Ogurek, junior 1B Lia Harrington and freshman 2B Aryanna Dadaboo in the fold for this year and beyond.
15. Birmingham Groves – If Groves has been looking for the ultimate barometer to see where it is at as a softball program, this year will be it. The Falcons will be competing in the top division of the OAA, but could still be competitive behind a group of 12 returning players, six of whom are seniors. Junior OF Andrea MacMichael (only one error on defense, .370 BA, 35 RBI), junior Savanna Tatum (.437 BA, 39 RBI and went 20-12 in the circle) and junior 3B/C Carli Cosenza (.394 BA, 29 RBI) are the key returnees for the Falcons.
16. Stoney Creek – The Cougars were maybe the most improved team in the county last year, going from the bottom to a perfect 12-0 league record. As a result, Stoney Creek graduated to the White division, but figures to contend behind a dynamite hitting duo in senior SS Jen Semaan (.523 BA, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 892 slugging) and junior C Casey Cribbs (.522 BA, .619 OBP, .844 slugging).
Junior pitchers Sara Beyer and Meghan Glaser combined to win 21 games last year also.
17. Birmingham Seaholm – The Maples could be the favorite in the OAA Blue behind a strong-hitting offense. Senior C/P Riley Miller (.434 BA, 33 RBI) is a four-year starter who has signed with Detroit Mercy, and junior SS/P Maddy Cormier (.538 BA, 30 SB, 48 runs) is coming off a sensational sophomore season.
Miller and Cormier will be flanked by senior 3B Megan Flynn (.386 BA), senior P Olivia Sheridan (.417 BA), senior INF Syd Hessen (.418 BA) and junior OF Christina Dennis (.439).
18. Walled Lake Central - The Vikings will hope to contend in the KLAA North with a young roster that keeps growing and growing. Central will be young, but can compete behind promising sophomore P/OF Kaitlyn Wolschlager, senior P Morgan Meredyk, a four-year varsity player, junior OF Rachael Janette and sophomore SS Kennedy Crawford (.409 BA).
19. Farmington – The Falcons will have to replace an irreplaceable player graduated all-state player Sarah Gutknecht, but they hope being a good defensive team will catapult them to contention in the OAA White.
Senior P/IF Sarah Gallagher (.340 BA, 24 runs) is a dangerous leadoff hitter, while senior 3B Rachel Walsh and senior CF Trycia Piontek are two other experienced returnees that will be relied upon.
20. Rochester – The Falcons hope to be a factor in the OAA White behind junior P Haley Lenderman, who missed last season due to an injury after being an all-league player as a freshman. If she can get back to form that will mean Rochester can compete with anyone in the league. Also back is senior C/OF Emily Smith, senior SS Alexa Haupt and senior CF Maddie Williams.
Birmingham Detroit Country Day will be a young team this year that will look to peak come the start of the state tournament. Freshman pitchers/utility players Jaqueline Spizizen and Erinn English and sophomore INF Brooke Reiter will be among the youngsters to look out for.
Milford hopes it can be at the very least an above .500 team with seven returning players, those being P/OF Amy Petrillo, P/1B Amelia Hayes, utility player Julia Stevenson, SS/3B Hannah Hasley , INF Aubrey Long, OF Nicole Wojcik and C/OF Emily White.
Novi hopes to be a program on the upswing with the hiring of head coach Bruce Lenington, an accomplished coach on the summer ball circuit.
Ortonville Brandon will try and make a run at a Flint Metro title behind returning all-league senior OF Miranda Zimmerman, junior P and top hitter Katelyn Hendershott (.500 BA) and senior Hunter Mateer.
Oxford has a first-year coach in former Troy standout Jessie Granger. She will preside over a team that will have just three seniors, so growing pains initially are likely. Junior infielders Sky Donaldson and Cherilyn Banas will be captains and junior P Jordan Romaine will be an innings-eater in the circle. Freshman CF Madison Dinges could make an immediate impact in the outfield.
In his second year at Southfield Christian , head coach Dave Erdmann returns senior SS Amelia Denison, senior OF Courtney Cline and senior INF Kelley Brooks to provide veteran leadership. Freshmen infielders Emma Paryaski and Grace Gilson should see immediate playing time.
Walled Lake Northern will be a team that has only three seniors, so there will still be a lot of youth on the roster. One of those seniors is senior CF Erin Lee (.348 BA), while the best player for the Knights is junior 3B/P Mackenzie Kohler (.440 BA, 21 RBI), the team’s leading returning hitter. Sophomore SS/P Ariana Chretien and freshman OF/INF Hannah Bunker should also be important players.
Walled Lake Western and second-year head coach Wayne Probst will rely heavily on senior P Alexa Alati, senior P/1B Kayla Wood, senior 3B Delaney Probst, senior CF Mackenzie VanDeventer and senior 1B/RF Courtney Krause.
Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes made it to the Catholic League C-D final and won a district title last year, and hopes to improve on last year with a roster that is a good blend of experience and youth. Senior INF Angie Mastromatteo was an All-Catholic performer last year, senior P Sarah Kowalczyk will take over as the team’s ace, and 1B Olivia Imber, C/OF Madison Ebel, INF/OF Lauren Hingst and outfielders Becky Wolanin and Sarah Szakal round out the senior class. Junior OF/C Ashley Lowney was an all-league player last year while SS Kathleen Balan, OF Beth Meehan and OF Alex Troy headline a sophomore class that made significant contributions last year as freshmen.