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Detroit News top prep softball teams

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Macomb Dakota coach Richard Fontaine has to feel confident going into games knowing he has Kendahl Dunford on the mound.

All Dunford did last year was toss five consecutive shutouts in postseason play to help Dakota reach Michigan State for the right to play in the Final Four for a chance to win the Division 1 state championship.

Dunford defeated Midland 4-2 in a state semifinal before Dakota suffered a 4-0 championship game loss to Farmington Hills Mercy.

“Pitching and defense are our strengths,” Fontaine said. “Kendahl is our team captain, a first-team all-state pitcher who was 35-3 last season with a 1.35 earned-run average.”

And, Dakota has more than just Dunford, a reason it enters the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the metro area and a threat to make it back to MSU.

Dakota returns 10 players, including five starters from a year ago with senior first baseman Julia Salisbury (.466), junior shortstop Corbin Hison (.437, 36 RBI) and senior second baseman Kattie Popko (.333, 31 RBI) among the group.

Detroit News top 10 prep softball players

2. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (28-5, Division 3): Michigan-bound pitcher Meghan Beaubien (25-1, 0.38 ERA), junior shortstop Kelsey Barron (.395, four homers) and junior catcher Kenna Garst (.394, eight homers, 40 RBI) are among seven starters back from back-to-back Division 3 state championship teams.

Garst is a Eastern Michigan commit and Barron is Monroe St. Mary’s No. 2 pitcher.

“If Kelsey wasn’t pitching behind Meghan, she’d be a No. 1 anywhere else,” Monroe St. Mary coach John Morningstar said. “She has a fastball that she can spot on the corner. She has a riseball, screwball, a drop curve and she also has a knuckle-change and her knuckle-change is her most effective pitch. It just really comes in looking like a strike, then just falls off and makes hitters look kind of silly. She’ll be my number one next year.”

3. Clarkston (29-10, Division 1): Paige Blevins and Hannah Chadwell make up the left side of the infield while leading Clarkston’s hitting attack.

Blevins, a Central Michigan commit, hit .513 with 11 homers and 56 RBIs last season to help Clarkston to a 29-10 record. Chadwell is an Oakland commit.

“Paige has great extra-base power and is a clutch hitter,” coach Don Peters said. “Hannah Chadwell is a really good hitter, knows the strikeout zone well and has a lot of pop in her bat. She also has a really good glove, anticipates where the ball’s going.”

Peters will also showcase a pitching staff led by sophomore Sarah Gladding, who was 10-1 as a freshman, along with sophomores Olivia Worthington and Sarah Kuenzel. They will work with freshman catcher Hannah Cady.

“Hanna’s a freshman catcher who is very athletic, very smooth, everything she does comes natural,” Peters said.

4. Howell (30-11, Division 1): Senior second baseman Veronica Pezzoni is among the returning starters from a team that averaged 9.2 runs a game last season.

Pezzoni hit a school-record .550 last season a stole 38 bases while scoring 58 runs. Howell scored 49 runs and collected 45 hits in a season-opening three-game tournament earlier this month, including a 13-3 rout of defending Division 1 state champion Farmington Hills Mercy.

Outfielder Maddie Gillett has outstanding power and first baseman Emma Johnson and center fielder Sydney Pezzoni are other key contributors. Freshman Molly Carney threw a no-hitter against Melvindale.

5. Farmington Hills Mercy (43-2, Division 1): Sure, Mercy lost slugger Abby Krzywiecki from last year and Alex Sobczak two years ago, but still is loaded with talent from its Division 1 state championship team, led by senior center fielder Sophie Van Acker, junior catcher Anna Dixon and seniors Nicole Belans and Shannon Gibbons.

Van Acker, who will play at Lehigh, hit .532 last year with 57 runs scored.

Belans plays second base and hit a home run in the three-run seventh in a 4-0 state championship game win over Dakota. Gibbons plays shortstop.

Coach Alec Lesko plans to move Dixon from catcher to third base after she played right field her freshman year. Dixon hit .500 last season.

Lesko will also be looking for big things from senior outfielder Mary Reeber, who hit .380 after starting last season 1-for-20. Van Acker and Reeber played on Mercy’s state championship hockey team this past winter. Freshmen Olivia Iafrate and Samantha Shea will handle the pitching.

Twitter: @DavidGoricki