End of the road for Redettes

UNIVERSITY CENTER – Like a football quarterback or a hockey goalie, a baseball or softball pitcher can almost determine the outcome of a game all by him or herself.

That seemed to be the case for the Marquette Senior High School softball team in an MHSAA Division 1 softball regional semifinal game played Saturday afternoon at Saginaw Valley State University.

Lapeer’s Hunter Conzelmann allowed just two hits all game on back-to-back doubles by the Redettes’ Hannah Bulinski and Brooke Houle in the sixth inning.

She led the Lightning to a narrow 2-1 victory over the Upper Peninsula’s representative in the state’s largest group of schools. Lapeer, however, lost in the regional championship 4-3 to Midland to end its season at 29-5-1.

“That Lapeer pitcher, she’s the real deal,” said MSHS coach Paul Seibert, who brought Marquette (28-7-2) to the regionals for the first time since 2011. “We probably helped her out a little bit, and some of that may have been nervousness.

“But (Conzelmann) knew what she wanted to do, plus she’s a great hitter.”

Conzelmann reached base twice on a first-inning error of a deep fly to straightaway center field and a sharp line drive in the seventh.

Lightning coach Mallory Miller said she and Conzelmann had a pitching plan for Marquette, even though they hadn’t seen these Yoopers play ball before.

“We heard that Marquette likes to play ‘small ball,'” she said,

“So we wanted to move the ball around, get it spinning with some breaking pitches.”

Both coaches agreed Conzelmann’s rise ball worked well – for most of the game.

“When they got their hits, I think Hunter got a little too amped up,” Miller said. “She started throwing harder and that straightened her ball out. Then she got back in the groove in the seventh.”

Marquette gave up single runs to Lapeer in each of the first two innings, with tough-to-score errors playing key roles in each unearned run.

But the Redettes were ready to even up the score in the top of the sixth. With two out and the bases empty, leadoff hitter Bulinski came up and smacked a line shot to the fence in left field to reach second base.

Not more than two or three minutes later, Houle hit her shot also over the left fielder’s head and to the fence just to the right of where Bulinski hit hers.

That scored Bulinski and put the tying run in scoring position. But No. 3 batter Courtney Finkbeiner hit a liner down the third-base line that Lapeer third-bagger Lexi Fisher snagged for the final out of the inning even as she was playing in for a possible bunt.

“If we play error-free ball, I feel like we’re maybe the best team in the state,” Miller said.

In the same vein, the Redettes thought they could play with – and defeat – any of these regional opponents.

“We left every ounce of energy and passion out there on the field today,” Finkbeiner said. “Their pitcher, she loves her rise ball, but if we could lay off of it, we knew we could hit her.

“We’ve always adjusted all season. As a team, we always start hitting in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh (innings).”

She said that was the reason MSHS starting hit more line drives and drew its only walk the second time up starting in the third.

“This is a good learning lesson for our team,” Seibert said. “We got a good taste of it. Even though we haven’t been dominated by a pitcher that way all season, I know that we’re as good as anybody here.”

Lapeer and Midland play in the Saginaw Valley League, a 14-team conference with schools ranging from Mount Pleasant down to Flint, and is possibly the strongest conference in the state outside of Detroit in a number of sports. For example, Midland defeated defending D1 champion Bay City Western to advance out of its district last week.

On Saturday, the Redettes weren’t able to reach base in the seventh inning to put the tying run aboard, ending the game on a pop-up caught by Lightning second baseman Ally Brown.

Chelsea Wiggins was the hard-luck losing pitcher for the Redettes as she allowed four hits and one walk while striking out four.

She walked Lapeer’s second batter of the game, Brianne Brown, who moved up to second on the first of four sacrifices during the game by the Lightning.

With two out, she was on the move and easily scored when teammate Ally Brown followed with a deep fly hit just a few feet in front of the warning track in center that Marquette’s Amanda Gray couldn’t corral in the sun.

In the second, Marki Ludeman led off with a single to right, and Blaine Taylor moved her up a base when MSHS shortstop Bulinski had a sharp grounder ricochet off her glove. A sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly followed to score this second run.

With runners stranded in scoring position, either inning could’ve turned into a multi-run rally to knock Marquette for a loop. Instead, the Redettes stayed in the game even though their first 11 batters didn’t reach base, a streak ending when Finkbeiner walked in the fourth.

“You really see how none of these teams was ever going to give up,” said Finkbeiner, who played her last high school game as a senior. “I know when we got those doubles, our energy was already at 100 percent. But it seemed to go up to 200 percent.

“I couldn’t ask for a better senior year. This is such a positive team. I owe all my success to these girls.”

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.