Clarkston and Howell were ranked 1-2 by The Detroit News heading into the season and the teams have lived up to their billing, advancing to the softball Final Four at Michigan State University.
Clarkston (36-2) will face Howell (35-3) in a Division 1 semifinal Thursday at 5:30 p.m., following the other semifinal between Warren Regina and Bay City Western at 3.
Don Peters guided Clarkston to the semifinals two years ago when it suffered a 2-1 loss to Grandville. Last year, Clarkston finished 39-3 and lost in the quarterfinals to Hartland, and Howell lost to Hartland in the semifinals.
Clarkston avenged that loss to Hartland with an 11-3 quarterfinal win Tuesday, ending Hartland’s 29-0-1 run, behind the pitching of Olivia Warrington and home runs by Abbey Tolmie and Nyah Ansel (three-run) in a six-run sixth inning.
“We’ve hit the ball well all year,” said Peters, now in his 15th year as Clarkston’s head coach.
Peters said Hannah Cady, Sierra Kersten and Abbey Tolmie are all hitting better than .500.
Cady, a junior catcher, is a Northwestern commit; Kersten, a junior second baseman, is committed to Michigan; and Tolmie, a junior first baseman, is committed to Central Michigan.
“Olivia is pitching well,” said Peters of Warrington, who will pitch next year at Detroit-Mercy. “She throws hard and has nice movement on the ball.”
Howell defeated Canton, 9-1, in a quarterfinal at Chelsea.
“I like our pitching and defense, we just have to score one more run than they do,” Peters said. “We know they hit a lot of home runs.”
Howell has 62 homers, just one behind New Baltimore Anchor Bay’s single-season state record of 63.
In the win over Canton, Utah-bound center fielder AJ Militello hit a leadoff homer. She also had a double, single and RBI walk.
Militello (17), first baseman Avery Wolverton (17) and second baseman Maddie Gillett (16) have combined to hit 50 home runs this season.
Howell junior pitcher Molly Carney is looking forward to playing Clarkston.
“I’ve had the goal to play Clarkston since I was a freshman, just because I knew a few girls on their team and they’ve always been talked about so I’m excited to finally get a chance,” said Carney, a Notre Dame commit.
Howell coach Ron Pezzoni says last year’s experience of playing at MSU will help.
“The kids had a little taste of it last year and now we’ve earned the right to get back,” Pezzoni said. “Talent-wise Clarkston is as loaded as anybody and they have some experienced players. We just have to worry about ourselves and take care of the little things. We’re not a one-dimensional team. We can do some other things too, like run, bunt and steal bases, and we’ve had to do those things to get here.”
Said Militello: “I think it’s a huge deal that we made it last year (to MSU). We know the atmosphere and the pressure is not new to us.”
As for all the home runs, Militello said, “It’s just fun. We just try to hit the ball hard and then it goes over. Our lineup is good 1-through-9.”
All games at Secchia Stadium, Michigan State, East Lansing
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.