Chelsea — Howell coach Ron Pezzoni was hoping his softball team would pick up its hitting in the Division 1 quarterfinal game against Canton on Tuesday after scoring five runs in the two-game regional.
Pezzoni had to feel pleased after Howell collected 10 hits and batted around in the second and fourth innings to power its way to a 9-1 win to advance to the state semifinals for the second straight year.
Howell (35-3), which lost to Kensington Lakes Activities Association rival Hartland in last year’s state semifinal, will play Clarkston in a semifinal at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Michigan State following the 3 p.m. semifinal between Warren Regina and Bay City Western.
Clarkston defeated Hartland in a quarterfinal at Novi, 11-3, to avenge a 1-0 loss in an Ann Arbor tournament three weeks ago.
“The tough thing is that people don’t realize how hard it is just to get to this game,” Pezzoni said. “We had two really tough games to get here and just give the kids credit. They had a little taste of it last year and are now getting back. We’ve faced a couple of really good pitchers in the district and regionals and it was nice to see some balls getting in the outfield instead of playing the bunt game and small ball.”
After Canton (27-6) scored an unearned run in the top of the first, Howell leadoff hitter AJ Militello slugged a home run to left field for her 17th homer to even the score.
Then, Howell scored five runs in the second to open a 6-1 lead, taking advantage of three walks and an error, including an RBI walk by Rose McQueen who fought back from an 0-2 count to score the first run in the inning, followed by an opposite field RBI single to left by Maddy Heilner, who also battled back from an 0-2 count, with Militello then adding an RBI walk to force in the third run.
Howell scored three more runs in the fourth with Militello leading off the inning with a single, reaching second on an error and scoring on Maddie Gillett’s double to left.
That’s right, Militello’s leadoff home run gave Howell 62 homers on the season, one shy of Anchor Bay’s single season record set this season. Anchor Bay hit its 63rd in a district loss to Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse.
Gillett’s double hit the top of the fence in left, resulting in Howell’s assault on the record book continuing.
“I just knew as a leadoff hitter I had to come out and just hit the ball hard,” the Utah-bound Militello said of her home run to start Howell’s comeback. “I knew that we got down and we need to pick Molly (Carney) up and we weren’t picking her up on defense. I knew it was my responsibility to get the team going so I just tried to hit the ball hard.”
Militello (17), sophomore first baseman Avery Wolverton (17) and Gillett (16), the senior second baseman, have combined for 50 home runs.
Howell junior right-hander Molly Carney continued to impress, giving up just the one unearned run after tossing a pair of shutouts in the regionals (4-0 semifinal win over St. Joseph and 1-0 title game win over Richland-Gull Lake).
Carney, a Notre Dame commit, stranded runners in scoring position in the second, fourth and seventh innings, and gunned out a Canton runner at the plate to end the game.
“I’m real confident, just putting the ball in different spots and just doing my thing,” said Carney who was battling through an illness earlier in the day.
Said Pezzoni: “She was super sick all day today and we were a little worried about it, but she’s a battler and I knew she’d go out there and throw the ball great. She’s a tough kid.”
Bay City Western 4, Lowell, 1
Clarkston 11, Hartland 3
Howell 9, Canton 1
Eaton Rapids 2, Ida 0
Escanaba 2, Freeland 0
Stevensville Lakeshore 3, Spring Lake 1
Dundee 8, Riverview Gabriel Richard 3
Millington 11, Marine City 0
Schoolcraft 14, Grandville Calvin Christian 6
Standish-Sterling 2, Negaunee 1
Coleman 10, Holton 0 (6 inn.)
Kalamazoo Christian 11, Hudson 1 (5 inn.)
Rogers City 2, Rudyard 1
Unionville-Sebewaing 13, Allen Park Inter-City Baptist 0
All games at Secchia Stadium, MSU
Warren Regina vs. Bay City Western, 3 p.m.
Howell vs. Clarkston, 5:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
North Branch vs. Escanaba, 12:30 p.m.
Stevensville Lakeshore vs. Eaton Rapids, 10 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Schoolcraft vs. Dundee, 3 p.m.
Millington vs. Standish-Sterling, 5:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Unionville-Sebewaing vs. Rogers City, 12:30 p.m.
Coleman vs. Kalamazoo Christian, 10 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 3 p.m.