By Bill Petzold
BATTLE CREEK — Seven wasn’t a lucky number for the Patriots, but the Unionville-Sebewaing softball team lived up to its reputation as a state power.
The Patriots fell behind early in an 8-1 state semifinal loss to reigning Division 3 champion Clinton and ended their season with a 40-5 record, but young players gained experience for the future and graduating seniors left having reached the state “final four” every year of their high school careers.
The battle between USA freshman pitcher Erica Treiber and Redskins ace Tierney Nelson began with the first at-bat of the bottom of the first, as Treiber fanned Nelson on three pitches. But the Mustangs strung together three consecutive hits to lead 2-0 before Treiber added another pair of strikeouts to end the inning.
After Clinton added another run in the second, Nelson held USA hitless until the fourth, when Tessa Dinsmore connected for a leadoff double and cruised to third on an errant throw by the left fielder.
“I could see that she was going to pitch me high and I was just waiting for her to throw me that pitch,” Dinsmore said. “The first time she caught me a little bit outside and the second time she just gave me my pitch and I took it.”
The Mustangs pulled away in the fourth inning, when three USA errors helped Clinton push across five runs to lead 8-0.
The Patriots got on the board in the fifth inning when leadoff hitter Calie Valentine was hit by a pitch and scored on a single by Ashlyn VanHoost. Dinsmore belted another double in the seventh with two outs, but Nelson kept the USA hitters from making solid contact and the Clinton defense played solidly behind her.
“That’s the way single-elimination tournaments are: You don’t get a second chance,” USA coach Steve Bohn said. “If you have an off-day, especially against the No. 1 team in the state, you’re probably going to pay for it.
“The girls were relaxed, we just screwed up a couple balls and stuff like that happens. You just cannot give a team like that extra outs. You can’t do that in your league, let alone in a semifinal game.
“You get here, and you’re going to play the best teams. We didn’t play well enough to beat the best team.”
For Treiber, the trip to Battle Creek was her first chance to compete after years of watching older sister, Carly Treiber, do battle with Michigan’s softball elite.
“I was really excited coming down and knowing that I’ve got three more chances left — I know we’re going to be back,” Treiber said.
“(My sister Carly) was here all four years of high school, and I hope to do the same thing. All year we’ve been saying ‘This is for June, this is for June, we’re going to make it,’ and we were just one game short, but we did great. We had a great year.”
“They’re a storied program as far as we’re concerned,” Clinton coach Al Roberts said. Friday’s victory was the 584th of Roberts’ 19-year career. “Every year, you hear about USA, whether they’re in (Division 3) or D4, and they’re bumping heads either with us or with our counterpart there, Summerfield, which is in our league.
“They’ve had a tremendous, tremendous run, and they’re going to continue. This coaching staff is doing a good job as well, no question. They play the right way, they do the right things.”
Dinsmoore said that while the loss stings, it gives the Patriots incentive to work hard this offseason.
“We know that we’ve got to play our hardest, and we’re going to have our good and bad days, but we learned things from this,” she said. “We learned we’ve got to come with our heads up, we can never let our heads be down, and we know we’re going to come back next year and bring it even harder.”
When asked about reaching the state semifinals in his first year at the helm, Bohn gave all the credit to his team.
“It’s a tribute to the girls,” Bohn said. “I learned a lot this year. I’m not saying I didn’t know anything: I knew enough to be of some help. But the girls, there are some key players on the team that I leaned heavily on to help me in evaluating where we were at, where we needed to go. All three of us coaches told the girls, ‘Thanks for taking us to Battle Creek.’
“They work hard, and that’s what I told them after the game. If you can look back after the game and say ‘I shorted myself somewhere,’ then by all rights feel bad. They work every day in the weight room, they work all summer in travel league, they worked in the winter, I mean they just work and work and work to be the best they can.
“Things didn’t turn out the way they’d like, but when their heads hit the pillow tonight, they’re not going to be laying awake wondering, ‘What if?’, because they gave everything they had.”
While the team will lose the leadership of savvy seniors Calie Valentine, Taylor Anker and Jessica Gremel, the Patriots return a number of players with state tournament experience who are bound and determined to uphold USA’s softball legacy.
“This is seven years in a row we’ve been down here,” Bohn said. “Those girls grew up seeing this, wanting to be here, and the seniors, I don’t know if they were all four on that team, whether they were brought up as freshmen, but they were here. The girls who are right behind them, they want to come (to Battle Creek) and they want to win.
The program kind of perpetuates itself when you have that success …
“This is a great day for USA youth softball, anytime you come down here with the size of the community that we have and (field) this caliber of players. I don’t make them (good players), they’re made at a younger age, and anybody who had anything to do with youth softball at USA should feel proud of what they’ve given to the community. It’s a really cool thing.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing; we wish we would have played better, but then again Verlander doesn’t have it every day either, and he’s one of the best in the world.”
Bill Petzold is a Staff Writer for the Advertiser and he can be reached at Petzold@tcadvertiser.com
By Bill Petzold