Thumb’s state champs duel, USA wins

MILLINGTON —Laci Harris and Gabby Crumm helped the Unionville-Sebewaing Area Patriots attack “Hudie’s Hill” on Wednesday.
They accomplished their mission, and attained revenge, in USA High School’s 9-1 victory over unbeat-en Millington, when Harris and Crumm each swatted home runs landing amid fans on the “hill,” a grassy berm beyond the left-field fence.
“Before I hit my home run, I had flown out in my last at-bat, so I just told myself I need to execute it better, and that’s what I did,” said Harris, whose 3-run homer off Millington ace Ashley Ziel in the sixth inning gave the visitors to a 9-0 lead.
Millington would push across a seventh-inning run when Summer Mauk singled, pinch runner Kendal Payne stole second and then scored on an error by a USA infielder.
The softball showdown involved teams that won state championships in different divisions in 2019. The 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Millington claimed the Division 3 crown in 2019 and USA captured the Division 4 title. Millington coach Greg Hudie’s Cardinals, however, defeated USA 2-1 on April 8 of this season, and led the Patriots 4-1 in the second game at USA when umpires called off the contest due to rain.
“I think we started out a little slow (Wednesday), because we had team practice Tuesday and that just felt slow,” said Ziel, a junior who struck out 10 Patriots in Wednesday’s single game.
“But we knew that, coming into this game, (USA) was gunning for us. And they definitely were gun-ning for us — 100 percent.”
Millington, entering the game 30-0, suffered its first loss. USA, meanwhile, won its 29th consecutive game to run its record to 33-3. USA senior pitcher Brynn Polega struck out 14 Millington hitters, allow-ing four hits and four walks.
The Patriots, however, meant business from the start.
USA, with help from an error by a Millington infielder, loaded the bases with two outs in the first in-ning. Ziel then hit USA’s Olivia Jubar with a pitch, giving the Patriots a 1-0 lead.
USA’s Maci Montgomery, the next batter, lifted a fly ball to left field, but two runs scored on an error by the Millington outfielder. Jubar then scored from third base on a passed ball to make the score 4-0 before Ziel fanned Emily Rieman to end the inning.
“That first inning is the most important inning of softball, so once you jump on it in the first, it just kind of goes from there,” said Harris, a junior third baseman for USA.
USA, the No. 2-ranked team in Division 4, was set to play a state district title game Friday at home against the winner of a game between Caseville and Owendale-Gagetown. Results of Friday’s contest weren’t available as of press time, but if USA wins, it moves on to June 12 regional competition, also at USA.
Millington, ranked No. 1 in Division 3, plays Reese at noon today at Vassar, in a district semifinal game. The winner of that contest plays at 2 p.m. today in the district title game against Vassar.
Millington also hosts a regional tournament June 12.
Mauk led the Cardinals Wednesday with two hits. Trinity Fessler, Millington’s junior catcher, stole a base, singled and drew a walk during the game.
Ziel remained optimistic following the loss.
“Honestly, I think this game actually helped us in a way,” Ziel said. “I mean, we came into the game with a 30-0 record, and we get big heads. I mean, who wouldn’t?
“But I think we really needed this to knock us down a peg.”
Millington loaded the bases with one out in the first inning but failed to score.
Millington’s Dylan Holmes walked to start the second inning, and Mauk singled to right field, but when Holmes tried scampering to third, USA right fielder Rieman rifled a throw to third baseman Harris, who tagged Holmes out.
USA led 4-0 until the fifth inning, when freshman catcher Crumm bashed a solo homer to extend the lead to 5-0.
Polega struck out three Millington hitters in each of the fourth, sixth and seventh innings.
While USA tallied four runs on only one hit in the first inning, the Patriots collected eight hits off Ziel the rest of the way. Crumm figures USA’s batters began to catch up to Ziel’s pitches as the game wore on.
“They’re very good hitters,” said Ziel, adding that Millington hadn’t played a game in about 10 days.
“They’re a great team – No. 2 in Division 4, and you can’t complain about what happened.”
USA made one error in the game, and displayed strength at baseball fundamentals. After Montgom-ery doubled in the sixth inning, Rieman laid down a sacrifice bunt to push Montgomery to third base.
Then Emma Stecker, a USA senior, bunted for a single, sending Montgomery home and – following a single by Reinhardt – setting the stage for Harris’ three-run blast.
USA coach Isaiah Gainforth said the Patriots “approached this game like it’s a big-time game.”
“We approached this game bigger than as a pickup game before the district tournament, because to get where – ultimately – both teams want to get to, you’re going to have to play some teams, and you’re going to have to execute,” Gainforth said.
“And everything might be magnified a little bit more in games like this, and we want to play the best talent. We want to play the best teams around. We set this game up to benefit both of us.”

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