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Clarkston's semifinal run powered by its precocious underclassmen WITH PHOTO GALLERY

DETROIT >> Some things you have to learn from the hard school of experience.

Like the fact that it’s really, really hard to get to the state’s Division 1 softball final four.

Apparently, the incredibly young Clarkston Wolves haven’t gotten to that point yet in their careers.

Maybe that realization will come sometime — but not this year.

Despite all that youth — five freshmen and eight sophomores on the roster, seven of whom start — the Wolves are one of the last four teams standing.

Clarkston will take on Grandville (31-7) at 3 p.m. Thursday at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium, playing for the right to go on to the finals.

“It’s exciting. I think they’ve got a chance. Young or not. We’re playing well, and if we do what we’re supposed to do, I think we’ve got a chance,” said Clarkston coach Don Peters, who took Ortonville Brandon to a Class B state title in 1994.

“Five freshmen and two sophomores, to get them into the final four, life doesn’t get any better than that, does it?”

While Grandville (31-7) hasn’t been this far since 1982, when they lost in the Class A finals to Royal Oak Kimball, the Wolves (33-9) haven’t been since 2004, when they lost in the semifinals to Portage Northern.

At least one of their number knows how hard it is to get back this far.

Junior shortstop Paige Blevins, the Central Michigan commit who played third base two years ago, knows that seasons can turn out like they did last year, when the Wolves didn’t even make it to the district final, losing to eventual quarterfinalist Lake Orion.

“It’s gonna be great. But we’re going to have to work hard. It’s not gonna be handed to us, that’s for sure,” Blevins said after Tuesday’s win, remembering back two years earlier, to her own nerves in the postseason freshman year. “I was a little nervous, but I was more confident. I was like ‘We can do it.’ But the freshmen are definitely big bats, and they’re definitely helping. They came to play today, and that’s all I can ask.”

Along with Blevins, junior Hannah Chadwell (Oakland University commit) starts at third. The team’s only senior, Alex Gladding, is the flex player, starting in left field.

Everyone else on the field for the Wolves is either in the Class of 2019 or 2020.

A transfer from Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, sophomore Olivia Warrington has stepped into the role as the team’s ace in the circle, while another of the team’s five-person pitching staff, sophomore Sarah Gladding, has become the primary designated player, igniting rally after rally this postseason from the bottom of the lineup.

And then there are the freshmen.

Speedy slap hitter Abbey Tolmie — maybe the fastest first baseman you’ll ever see — is the leadoff hitter, while Hannah Cady stepped in behind the plate, filling in the shoes of Michigan-bound Miss Softball runner up Abby Skvarce. Through regionals, both were hitting north of .470 with OPS above 1.100.

After Blevins, who has 67 RBI to go with her school-record 14 home runs (and is hitting .500 with an OPS of 1.500), there’s lanky second baseman Sierra Kersten in the cleanup spot, slugging .600 (OPS: 1.035), followed by center fielder Nyah Ansel, slugging .556, second on the team in home runs with six.

After Warrington hits for herself (.365, 1.005 OPS), Sarah Gladding, Chadwell and freshman Abbey Barta, the right fielder, round out the lineup. Barta drove in the only run in Tuesday’s 1-0 quarterfinal win over Walled Lake Northern.

Without a doubt, the five freshmen give the Clarkston lineup juice it would not otherwise have, some of that just coming from pure, infectious energy.

“They always really excited, super upbeat. We’re upbeat. I try to keep them going, even when they get down on themselves, because even if I have a bad day, I want to make sure everybody else is good around me,” Blevins said. “We definitely needed them today.”

Peters has said time and again that his youngsters don’t play like youngsters. They don’t play tight.

In fact, they’re really, really, really loose.

“Just what you saw right there,” he said after Tuesday’s win, when the Wolves busted out the dance moves, in an impromptu dance party afterward. “In the very first week of the season, the very beginning, we’re playing Utica Ford, and playing some tough teams, and we’re trying to figure out where they’ll play and stuff, they played like young kids then. But since then, they’ve been great.”

Just as loose as the freshmen is the sophomore transfer in the circle.

Very good during the regular season, Warrington has been a beast in the postseason, shutting out Oxford in the district finals, and then Northern in the quarterfinals. She dropped her ERA to 1.76 after quarters, and has struck out 200 in 139 innings pitched, only walking 29.

“Nothing fazes her. We can’t even make her mad. She’s always smiling, always happy. And, I mean, at the end of the game, she was getting a little high, intense, and I was just like ‘You’ve just gotta calm down, you’ll be fine,’” Blevins said. “She definitely is clutch. She always comes tough, and I couldn’t picture her being any better. She’s just happy-go-lucky. She’s great, though.”

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Clarkston's 2017 softball roster:

2017 (SR) — Alex Gladding

2018 (JR) — Paige Blevins, Kassidy Moonen, Olivia Gilmore, Hannah Chadwell

2019 (SO) — Abbey Pierce, Katelyn Garvin, Anna Skvarce, Izzy Roselli, Sarah Kuenzel, Olivia Warrington, Breana Schmidt, Sarah Gladding

2020 (FR) — Abbey Barta, Hannah Cady, Nyah Ansel, Sierra Kersten, Abbey Tolmie

Last Updated: 6/14/2017 9:21:16 PM EST


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