By Tom Kendra
The Bulldogs powered into the state semifinals at Michigan State University on fire, putting up eye-popping offensive numbers that were among the best in state history.
But the Bulldogs appeared a bit tight on Friday on the state’s biggest stage and could never get on track in a 10-1 loss to Standish-Sterling at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium.
“It hurts,” said Ravenna pitcher Emma Gillard, who finished her senior year with a 15-3 pitching record and 61 RBI.
“We worked so hard. We put in 60,000 cuts this year just to prepare for this moment and we came up one game short.”
Ravenna (36-6) was looking to get to its first softball state championship game in school history and appeared poised to do it – dismantling Remus Chippewa Hills (16-0) and Grandville Calvin Christian (8-1) at regionals and then blasting No. 4-ranked Buchanan (12-6) in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Seemingly the entire town of Ravenna lined the streets on Friday morning as the team left for East Lansing, and a large number of those same people packed the stands at MSU, anticipating more offensive fireworks.
But from the start, the ‘Dogs were a little bit off.
“It was not our day,” said seventh-year Ravenna coach Dave Sherman, who was assisted by Scott Herremans, Mike Gillard and Penny Sherman. “We were a little bit nervous to start and their pitcher did a great job. She was running it in on us and hitting us on the handle.”
Standish-Sterling senior pitcher Devri Jennings had the Bulldogs befuddled from the start, striking out five of the first six batters she faced.
Emma Herremans finally broke the ice with the Bulldogs’ first hit in the fourth inning, a solid shot up the middle for a single, but it was the first of only three hits on the day. The other hits came from Ellie Solem and Emily Postema.
Jennings, who improved to 26-2 on the season with a 1.45 ERA, scattered those three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts.
“We worked really hard on how we were going to pitch those batters,” explained ninth-year Standish-Sterling coach Rich Sullivan. “Devri Jennings was awesome. She hit her spots and she was able to do what we needed her to do to stop that offense.”
That Ravenna offense Sullivan referred to entered the game with historical numbers – ranking fourth all-time in state history with 485 runs, third all-time with 393 RBIs, fourth in stolen bases (244) and seventh in doubles (102).
Unfortunately, the combination of Jennings, the big stage and a contagious off day was too much to overcome.
“We didn’t get settled in the box,” said Gillard, whose sophomore sister, Addison, was another of the team’s top players. “They had most of the momentum throughout the game and we were trying to switch it, but we fell short.
“They had a great pitcher and a great team. You have to give them all the credit.”
Standish-Sterling, which is located north of Saginaw and plays in the Tri-Valley Conference, connected on 14 hits, building a 5-0 lead after five innings. After Ravenna scored its lone run in the top of the sixth inning, the Panthers put the game away with five runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Senior Lexi Mielke went 3-for-4 with two RBI, Addi Fetters and Jennings both went 2-for-3 with two RBI. Macy Fegan added two hits and Sami Kopasz knocked in two runs.
The Panthers, who knocked off No. 1-ranked Evart in Regionals and then No. 5 Gladstone in the Quarterfinals, were in the semifinals for the third time in the past four years. They will now play in the softball state championship game for the first time in school history.
“It feels great,” said Jennings, one of her team’s captains. “It feels so great to be here and show everyone what we’ve got.”
The sudden end to an amazing season was tough for everybody in Ravenna blue, but it was particularly devastating for the Bulldogs’ four seniors – Emma Gillard, Kara Postema, Ellie Solem and Alexis McMahon.
The future looks bright with a strong middle school program coming up to go along with returners such as sophomores Emma Herremans (70 RBI), Addison Gillard (14-3 pitching record, 1.30 ERA) and freshmen Emily Postema and Riley Homoly.
Ravenna won the West Michigan Conference Rivers Division title along with the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association county crown, a tournament which this year was open to teams in all divisions.
The Bulldogs appeared to be only gathering steam in its postseason run, which made Friday’s finish even harder to take.
“We’re in the Final Four, that’s a great year, right?” said Sherman. “But on the flip side of that, you always want one more.”