East Lansing — There was joy on the field, as the Caledonia softball team was celebrating its Division 1 state championships.
But, somewhere, a former teammate, too, was smiling about the school’s 6-4 victory over Hartland Saturday at Michigan State.
Macayla Kohn was a three-sport athlete at Caledonia who died October 2016, in an automobile crash. Kohn would have been on this Caledonia softball team.
But in the team and coach's way of thinking, Kohn was with them every single step of the way.
“She was there with us every game,” said senior pitcher Samantha Gehrls, who pulled out a baseball card out of her hip pocket. “We had these cards printed in memory of her.
“She’s our angel.
“She was extremely important to every single one of us. She was an amazing person in our community, and was supposed to be on our team over these last two years. We played for her every single game. She’s the heart of our team. Her family is so important to our community. Every game we tried to go out and play for her, in memory of her.”
Caledonia had patches on their jerseys honoring Kohn, and her sister Saturday accepted a state championship medal.
“We’ve playing for her all along,” said Caledonia coach Tom Kaechele. “I know she is dancing in heaven right now, happy as all get out.”
Caledonia (29-6) scored four runs in the third inning after two outs to rally from a 3-1 deficit.
Along with pitching Caledonia to victory, Gehrls began the third inning rally with a single.
“First and foremost my job is to be the pitcher and hitting is a bonus,” said Gehrls, who'll pitch at Grand Valley next year. “I knew they’d (her teammates) get it done at the plate, and that allowed me to take it off my shoulders and focus on my pitching.”
Gehrls allowed three Hartland (33-6) runs in the first inning but settled down.
“I needed to calm down, I was a little too amped coming into the game,” Gehrls said. “But my teammates made huge plays, they were playing their hearts out.”
Gehrls, Abby Mitchell, and Jadon Huyser (two RBIs) all had three hits for Caledonia.
“I’m proud of this team, they just battle,” said Kaechele, who credited his assistants and a local softball program with his team’s development. “In the past, we’d get a lead and we didn’t know how to finish. That was a big thing, how to educate as to how to finish a game.”
Hartland only managed four hits after the first inning uprising, outfielder Sam Nagel driving all three runs with a bases-clearing double. Delaney Robeson had an RBI single in the fifth inning.
“We had some miscues out there, we didn’t play super clean defense,” said Hartland coach Bob Greene of Caledonia’s third inning rally. “No matter who you’re playing, it’s tough to come back from for sure.
“Give Caledonia credit. They fought hard and they put the ball in play a lot and eventually that was their success.
“(But) we hold our heads high. We had a great season and truly feel we were blessed this year.”