No. 3 Clarkston sweeps doubleheader from No. 5 South Lyon with pair of walk-off wins
CLARKSTON — Don Peters’ first official second-guess of himself last offseason came very quickly.
Within minutes of Hartland rallying late to beat his Clarkston Wolves in the Division 1 softball quarterfinals, Peters vowed he was going to be more proactive this season in going to relief pitchers, using his whole pitching staff.
He certainly appeared as if he was sticking to that plan in Thursday’s first official games of the 2019 season, looking like Sparky Anderson’s “Captain Hook” in swapping relievers in and out of the doubleheader with South Lyon, at one point making three pitching changes in one inning of the nightcap.
“Well, I give credit for the pitchers on both teams. Your fingers, the spin, the ball’s slick, and you can’t get any movement,” Peters said of the difficulty of pitching in 40-degree weather. “Especially that first game, when (Abbey) Barta did so good for five innings — and their girl, too — but after a while, I can’t imagine, can you?”
The end result for the preseason No. 3 team was that the switches kept the Wolves in both games just enough for the offense to pull it out at the end, sweeping the doubleheader from the No. 5-ranked Lions, winning both in walk-off fashion.
Clarkston won the first, 6-5, on Hannah Cady’s solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, then rallied from two down in the bottom of the fifth inning of the nightcap — the last official inning before the game was halted by darkness — tying it on Abbey Tolmie’s two-run homer, and winning it, 13-12, on Sierra Kersten’s RBI single.
For the Lions (0-2), who wanted to prove they belong in the same conversation as Clarkston among the elite teams in the state, certainly Thursday’s results didn’t sink their case.
“As happy as you can be with two losses. Two close games, both walk-offs, from one of the best teams in the state. I was really proud of way the girls battled, and we rallied when we were down. We didn’t let them get up big, and then squeeze us out of it. We rallied. That was what was most impressive,” South Lyon coach Dan DePaulis said. “And Clarkston’s loaded. That’s a great team. They’re so good. So for a small school like us to come out and play with a really good team like that, we’ll take it.”
The Wolves may have lost more to graduation than did the Lions, with Hannah Chadwell and Miss Softball Paige Blevins leaving the left side of the infield in flux.
But Kersten slid over to Blevins’ shortstop spot seamlessly, and went 3-for-5 with four RBI and two runs scored as the team’s cleanup hitter, while the Wolves’ All-American catcher, Cady, limited to designated player duty by a sore rotator cuff, was 6-for-8 with three RBI. Both are preseason candidates for the Total Sports Softball Player of the Year award.
The third member of that impressive freshman class of two seasons ago, leadoff hitter Tolmie, went 5-for-8 with eight RBI and three runs scored.
“They’re juniors, and they’ve matured, and they just look good, don’t they?” Peters said of his trio of junior stalwarts, who helped guide Clarkston to the semis as freshmen and to quarters as sophomores. Nobody’s looking that far ahead, though.
“Shoot, no. You’ve heard it a million times: We’ve just gotta focus on the next one. We’ve got Fenton next week, then Escanaba, Millington, Bay City Western, and they’re all very good teams, and just focus on just getting better. I’m sure you saw things we could improve on — I knowI did — and we’ll work on them. We’re getting healthy. We’ve got a couple of girls that are nursing some injuries.”
While the Wolves have been penciled in as contenders since that semifinal run two seasons ago, the Lions have been quietly aiming at contention this year, with a big group, led by their top two pitchers — juniors Lena Monteith and Alexis Bonk — gaining experience as they went over the last two seasons.
“A little bit, yeah. Every year, we’ve done a little better. We only lost a few players off last year’s team, so I’ve got 12 returners, and they’ve all got experience. This isn’t new for them, playing in games like this, which I think helps us,” DePaulis said.”I think it’s going to make us tougher in the long run, playing games like this, playing in those conditions. … This is our fourth time outside. For us to play that well, and not have a lot of time outside, was very impressive.”
In the opener, Tolmie broke a scoreless tie with an RBI double in the third inning. Madison Porter’s squeeze bunt tied it at 1-1 in the top of the fourth, but Kersten put Clarkston back ahead with an RBI double in the fourth, and back-to-back singles by Anna Skvarce and Cady in the fifth, followed by a sacrifice fly by Hannah Workman made it 5-1 Clarkston.
Peters brought Tolmie in to relieve Barta in the sixth, after the Lions — using an RBI double by Olivia Vitale, a bases-loaded walk by Riley Bourlier and a two-run single by Bonk to score four runs — tied it at 5-5. The lefty sent down the Lions in order in the seventh, setting the stage for Cady’s one-out, game-winning home run in the bottom of the frame.
In the nightcap, South Lyon batted around in the second inning, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. The big blow in the frame was a two-run single by Monteith off her future Central Michigan University teammate, Tolmie.
The Clarkston leadoff hitter would get three of those runs back herself in the bottom of the inning, clearing the loaded bases with a double off Monteith. Clarkston reclaimed the lead by sending 10 hitters to the plate in the third, scoring six runs to go ahead 9-5, but South Lyon answered with a seven-run rally in the top of the fourth, sending 12 hitters to the plate against three different Clarkston pitchers, before Tolmie finally got them out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts.
Kersten led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run, cutting the South Lyon lead to 12-10, and forcing DePaulis to go back to Bonk in the circle. Tolmie’s one-out homer in the fifth tied the game at 12-12, and Kersten followed singles by Skvarce and Cady with the game-winning RBI.