D3 SOFTBALL FINALS: Millington picks up the hardware it paid for in hard work, beating Schoolcraft to claim 1st title of any kind in school history
EAST LANSING — There were so many memories, it took a second memory card.
Bent on having his team document all of the little moments that made up this memorable season, Millington coach Greg Hudie brought a video camera anywhere the Cardinals were playing or practicing, leaving it out for his players to use.
And, boy did that camera see a lot this year.
Hudie’s Cardinals made school history, beating Schoolcraft, 8-0, in Saturday’s Division 3 softball finals, capturing the state championship of any kind for the school.
“Yeah, I got two chips. I went and bought another chip the other day. The girls, they’ve got it on the bus, we went out to dinner last night on the way home, got the video camera out. Just stupid, goofy stuff,” Hudie said after the game, standing in the middle of the infield of Michigan State’s Secchia Stadium, the state championship trophy still tucked under his right arm.
“I actually watched the first one the other day, and me and my wife were just crying laughing, watching the silliness. That’s what it’s about. Am I ever going to be back here? I hope I’m back here next year. And I very well could be with the girls I’ve got. But if I’m not, this is something to remember, and I want to make sure that not only me, but the girls remember it. It’s a game, and game’s gotta be playful, and fun, and enjoy each other. Otherwise, it’s not worth coming to the field for."
The Cardinals (38-2-1) spent all year with a target on their backs, as the No. 1 team in D3 — and eventually a nationally ranked team, according to MaxPreps — considering what they brought back from last year. So Saturday’s win was a relief to have fulfilled expectations.
“It’s incredible. It’s crazy. This is the first (title) in school history, for anything. And to be the first, it’s just incredible. We’ve worked so hard for this, and for it to come true, it’s just amazing,” said all-state pitcher Gabbie Sherman, who closed out her career with a 13-strikeout, four-hit shutout performance. “There’s nothing like it. We’ve been working for this since we were little kids, and we just keep working and working, and for it to come true is just unbelievable.”
The core group of seniors for the Cardinals finishes with a four-year record of 152-23-1, and four straight league, district and regional titles.
But this was the ultimate goal they’d been working toward all those years, investing sweat-equity.
“I read it in a book, this book I was reading about Alabama when they won a national championship, and one of their assistant coaches kept saying during all the hard work and their workouts, ‘We’re making payments on something that’s very expensive, very hard to earn, and we can pick it up at the end of the year.’ I stole that, and kind of told the girls that. Every day we’re in the weight room, every day we’re hitting, or you’re sacrificing going to a basketball game, or whatever it may be, you’re making payments on a state championship game. I told the girls on the bus ‘We’re here to collect what we’ve been making payments on.’ And they were actually joking around with me after the game, and they said ‘We picked up the hardware we bought, coach,’” Hudie said. “It’s been a long journey. We didn’t just earn this in the last couple of weeks. We earned this since they were little.”
Millington jumped on Schoolcraft right out of the gate, as leadoff hitter Darrien Roberts blasted the first pitch of the game out to left, hitting glancing the laser shot off the light tower, above the height of the scoreboard next to it.
“She just has a spark that is unreal. She is a very eccentric player, brings a lot of excitement to our team, feels very confident,” Roberts said. “She’s done that a couple of times this year. When you do that, as a defending team — what do you do? That’s gotta be a spirit-breaker when the leadoff hitter hits a home run like that. She’s just amazing, and the team feeds off her.”
Millington would end up scoring five runs in the rally, one coming on a single by Sydney Bishop, another on a wild pitch, one on a double by Madi Hahn and one on a single by Sabrina Gates. They would add three more in the fourth when Leah Denome — who finished the game 4-for-4, giving her a postseason hitting line of 19-for-24 — doubled and scored on a single by Sherman. Hahn drove in another run with a single, and McKenna Slough singled to drive in the season’s final run, making it 8-0.
There were probably a few both in the dugout and on the field remembering last year’s title game against Coloma, when the Cardinals led 6-1 only to end up losing 7-6. It had been something they’d had to get over the pain of during the season.
“I just knew this was our year, and we’re ready to win. No more of that Coloma stuff,” Roberts said. “It was hard, because a lot of the media would mention it, and a lot of parents and fans would mention it. A lot of times we would just tell them ‘No more. We don’t want to talk about that anymore. We’re going to move on, and come back and prove that’s not what defines us. What we do this year is what defines it.’”
Hudie addressed it with the team once, during an early practice, and then the Cards stopped thinking about it.
“We watched the game early on this year. We had some players and parents probably mad about it, but we felt it was the right thing to do for the team. We needed to get over it. We needed to quit hearing about it. As far as from all the news people, or all the people in town — there was a lot of talk about it. So I said ‘Hey, we’re going to watch this film the first week of practice, and we’re not going to talk about it, we’re not going to comment any more. It’s just not something we’re going to talk about. That was last year. We’re on to a new year.’
So no, I never thought about last year’s loss at all,” the coach said, admitting it was still a motivating — if silent — factor this season.
“Oh, absolutely. We just didn’t talk about it out loud, because it ain’t a good memory. We talked about it that one day. We had one day of practice where we cried, and hugged each other, and was mad at the world, and then we started practice and went to it. And never looked back from that point. Yeah, I’m sure people think about it. But we don’t talk about it no more. I think that was a big thing for us this year, just to finish it, and win it all.”
Sherman closed out the game without incident, allowing just one hit after the third. She could feel the momentum building up to a crescendo in the seventh.
“Yes, it’s incredible. When Madi Hahn came over and gave me a hug (in the middle of the inning), I was like ‘It’s happening,’” Sherman said. “I told the girls the last inning, ‘You give me everything you have, and I’ll give you what I have.’ And we did that.”
More than an hour after the game, the Millington players and fans were still hanging around outside the stadium, as well, drinking it all in.
“I keep telling them, ‘Enjoy every minute, whether it’s in the batting cage, the weight room or whatever we’re doing.’ I told them that probably 1,000 times today. Enjoy every pitch, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, really,” Hudie said. “It means a lot. … We were the first to make it to a state final last year. So to win it is legendary. Some people might take it for granted, but I know me, the coaches in the dugout, the players, the parents of these girls, we’ll remember it for the rest of our lives.”