VanDenBerg's leadership has Calvin Christian in D3 finalSoftball  |
East Lansing - Grandville Calvin Christian needed a leader to settle things down.
The Squires were losing by a run to Millington and running out of opportunities to do much about it in a Division 3 softball semifinal on Friday at Michigan State.
Leadership would seem to be in short supply for a team that had seven sophomores among 10 starters on Friday, but the Squires have more than enough in the person of Marissa VanDenBerg.
VanDenBerg, the only senior in the lineup against Millington, made two great catches on foul balls from her shortstop position and hit a two-run triple to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning, propelling Calvin Christian to a 4-2 victory. The Squires were down 2-1 in the sixth until sophomore Kennedy Stevens hit a game-tying single, setting the stage for VanDenBerg's heroics.
"She's so positive and energetic and always seems to know what to say at the right time," Calvin Christian coach Mike Gruppen said of VanDenBerg. "Then she comes up with big plays. She leads in all ways with her verbal leadership and her leadership on the field. It's unbelievable."
Stevens is one of the sophomores who have benefitted from VanDenBerg's guidance throughout an up-and-down season in which the Squires lost 10 games.
"It was hard to pick us back up," Stevens said. "You always have those doubts going through your head. You have a whole team cheering you on and backing you up, especially our shortstop. Marissa VanDenBerg helped a lot, picking us up and bringing us together. She brought us up when we were down. That helped a lot, having a leader like that on our team. She's always talking to us, always cheering us on."
The Squires (33-10) will play in a state championship game for the first time since 1994 when they face defending champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central at 3 p.m. on Saturday at MSU's Secchia Stadium.
St. Mary C.C. (27-5) beat Gladstone, 13-0, in five innings in the other semifinal.
Stevens, the No. 9 hitter, has the lowest average among the Squires' starters at .293. But with Millington pitcher Taylor Wright about to strand runners in scoring position for the third straight inning, Stevens lined a single to right field to score Kendall Bouma with the tying run.
"To be honest, I haven't had a hit that big in a long time," Stevens said. "It means a lot. I didn't really know where I hit it until after I came back to the dugout and people told me. With how powerful their crowd was, there was a lot of noise going on and distraction. You really have to focus. It's hard at times."
VanDenBerg stepped up and crushed a pitch to center field. Centerfielder Leah Donome took one step in before running back to chase the fly ball. The ball just eluded her outstretched glove short of the warning track. Jaycie Bos, who walked, and Stevens scored to put Calvin Christian ahead, 4-2.
"I give all the credit to Kennedy Stevens, I really do," VanDenBerg said. "I love it when she hits the right side. She starts it off for us. Down in the order, they're awesome. They're the ones who get us going. Our top really didn't do well today. Kennedy's great. I'm so proud of her. I give all the credit to her."
Millington (42-2) went down in order in the seventh.
Calvin Christian's rally denied Millington its first appearance in a championship game in any sport. The Cardinals made the 1993 Class B volleyball semifinals, losing to Marysville. Their football team reached the semifinals in 1994, ‘99, ‘09 and ‘10. The softball team never won a regional title before this season, getting to the semifinals despite having five freshmen among nine starters and eight freshmen on a 12-player roster.
"We definitely have girls coming up through our program now," seventh-year Millington coach Greg Hudie said. "We built a love for softball in Millington in the last couple years. We have kids coming back and more kids coming up. The future is very bright."
One of the few losses for the Cardinals will be a key one. Wright, one of only two seniors on the team, had 12 strikeouts on Friday. The loss was her first after 22 victories. Millington's only previous loss came against 10th-ranked Division 1 Canton in a game in which Wright didn't pitch.
"She's been a role model for a lot of great young pitchers coming up," Hudie said. "We've got some really great pitching coming up. We've got a great freshman pitcher who was our third baseman today (Gabbie Sherman). We've got some lower-level pitchers who absolutely adore Taylor. She made them want to work harder. The wins she's picked up, she means a lot to us. She'll be hard to replace, for sure, but she started all this."
Monroe St. Mary C.C. 13, Gladstone 0
Junior Meghan Beaubien is more comfortable on the big stage this year, though it's understandable if opponents are nervous about facing her.
"I wouldn't tell anybody, but last year I was pretty nervous," she said. "In both games, I guess. This year, I'm super comfortable. You always have butterflies in your stomach, but I wasn't as nervous as last year."
Beaubien did just fine in the final four last year, allowing only two hits and striking out 30 to lead the Kestrels to victories in the semifinals and championship game.
The University of Michigan commit took it to another level against Gladstone in a matchup between the last two Division 3 champions.
Beaubien struck out 13 of the 15 batters she faced, pit