Millington falls short in quest to defend title
By Scott Bolsby | Sports Editor
The chances came and went for Millington’s softball team in Saturday’s regional final loss to Division 3 No. 2 Richmond.
The Blue Devils took advantage of a late opportunity to knock off the No. 1 ranked Cardinals 2-1 in nine innings.
“I think we had our opportunities to get the win,” said Millington coach Greg Hudie. “It wasn’t a game where we walked away from thinking ‘Man, we just never had our shots.’ It takes luck, skill and everything to align to win.
“I think the girls played absolutely amazing softball, especially with the way it started out.”
The game started with both teams scoring in exact fashion.
Richmond starting pitcher Shea VanScoter ripped a home run to left field on the second pitch of the game to put the Blue Devils up 1-0.
Millington evened the score in the bottom of the first. The Cardinals’ starting pitcher Ashley Ziel blasted a solo shot on the second pitch of Millington’s at-bat.
“Ashley put that run up in the bottom of the first and made it a brand-new game until the ninth inning,” Hudie said. “I think with the way the girls reacted after that home run was what made me so happy.”
Hudie compared the response of his team this season to that of a Schoolcraft game two seasons ago.
“We put up a home run in the top of the first in the 2019 finals and the other team folded and that was all she wrote. I’m glad we didn’t do that Saturday,” said Hudie.
The two teams played to a stalemate from innings two through eight that included another strong outing from the 4-foot-11 Ashley Ziel.
“For a little girl she throws hard and with a ton of heart,” said Hudie. “She did great all season for us and I think against Bad Axe and Richmond (in regional play) she threw amazing. Her heart is as big as her athletic ability, and I think that’s what really fuels her.”
Ashley Ziel and VanScoter went pitch-for-pitch. Ashley Ziel allowed two runs, seven hits while striking out 10. Van Scoter earned the win allowing five hits with 12 strikeouts.
The Cardinals threatened in the bottom of the eighth after Ashley Ziel reached on a one-out single before stealing second. Millington’s lead-off hitter, who scored a game-tying run as a pinch-runner in the 2019 regionals, looked poised to become a hero yet again.
Leah Coleman singled to center field on the next at-bat advancing her, Ziel held up at third base after the ball was thrown in quickly to avoid the game-winning run. Coleman advanced to second on the throw.
After a Millington strikeout, a walk loaded the bases.
VanScoter got Richmond out of the jam, using a strikeout to send the game to the ninth.
The first batter of the following inning, Jaylyn Amhdar, was hit by a pitch to put the winning run on base for the Blue Devils. Amhdar eventually scored to put Richmond up 2-1 in the top of the ninth, forcing the Cardinals to score or have the defending state champions’ season end.
Millington was unable to break VanScoter in the ninth, finishing its season 34-2.
“I thought our defense was great all day,” said Hudie. “But there was just a couple hits and things to go our way that just didn’t. That’s just the game.
“Things like that happen.”
The Cardinals defeated Bad Axe 6-1 in the semifinal game to earn the spot in the finals behind home runs from Shannon Ziel and Trinity Fessler.
Millington (34-2) took a few innings to get warmed up, scoring one run in the second. They added a run in the fourth and fifth innings.
“We didn’t come out on fire like we wanted,” said Hudie. “I told the girls that if you let anyone hang around long enough, it’ll come back and bite you. It doesn’t matter who. If you get the opportunities, you better take advantage. I think Bad Axe did a good job of that, they were there to not just play, but win the thing.”
Bad Axe pitcher Haley Newland tossed six innings. She allowed six runs on 14 hits while striking out one.
“We just had to get used to their pitching,” said Hudie. “Newland was throwing really well for Bad Axe. I think it took a couple of innings to get used to it, but once we did, we got our hits and runs.”
Ashley Ziel earned the win striking out 17, including the first seven batters.
Shannon Ziel had three hits, two RBIs and scored three times. Fessler added three hits.
Millington closes the 2021 season with one regular-season loss, a conference title, a district championship and a No. 1 ranking in Division 3.
“It’s been a great season,” said Hudie. “It started as soon as we could in the weight room and getting together. We always start with non-softball related stuff until we can get all together. We had a great turnout for that and then from day one of the regular season.
“These girls were like all my other teams. They were on a mission.”