GENESEE TWP. — For Unionville-Sebewaing Area pitcher Brynn Polega, the surest way to secure a regional softball title was to not allow any runs.
The sophomore hurler has exceeded expectations all season long and was no less up to the task in leading her team to its latest Division 4 regional title on the strength of dual shutouts — her ninth and 10th of the season — Saturday at Genesee High School. USA knocked off previously unbeaten Kingston 8-0 in the finals after earning a 13-0, five-inning mercy win over Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary in the semifinals.
Polega finished with a 30:3 ratio of strikeouts to hits allowed on the day, yielding one hit in the win over MLS and two in the win over Kingston. She fanned 12 MLS batters in the semifinals before ramping the number up to 18 Ks in the finals to put a stamp on her day.
“Having 18 strikeouts in a regional final feels really good as a sophomore,” said Polega.
“I played varsity last year, and not being our No. 1 pitcher probably helped me a lot,” she added of getting the opportunity to learn from 2018 USA graduate and first team all-stater Katie Engelhardt, now with the Madonna University volleyball program but in attendance to cheer for her alma mater on Saturday. “I got to see how everything happens, what it looks like to be in pressure situations and how much it helps to keep your composure.”
From Kingston’s perspective, the game remained within reach until USA dealt a critical blow with a four-run top of the seventh inning to double up what had been a more manageable 4-0 deficit. And from USA’s perspective, the seventh-inning scoring elevated its confidence while taking away from that of its opponent, because odds of Polega allowing four runs, let alone eight, weren’t in the Cardinals’ favor.
“It was nice that we broke it open a little bit (in the seventh), but we felt pretty good with how Brynn’s been throwing,” said USA coach Isaiah Gainforth. “She’s coming into her own here at the right time.”
USA finished with 15 hits in the finals, including three each from Maci Montgomery and Nichole Schember, and two each from Rylee Zimmer, Carissa Dinsmoore and Delanie Pavlichek. Schember doubled twice, Dinsmoore added a double, Montgomery led the Patriots with three runs scored and tied for the team-high with two RBIs, joining Polega and Macy Reinhardt. Filling out the stat sheet, Montgomery also guided USA on the basepaths with two stolen bases and drew one of three walks issued to Patriots’ batters.
Kingston pitcher Camryn MacGuire, a senior leader on the Cardinals’ first district-title team since 2002, provided her team with a gutsy complete-game effort after previously throwing all nine innings and 151 pitches of a 6-5 semifinal win over Mio-Au Sauble. Although USA’s offense was effective against Kingston, scoring once each in the first, second, third and sixth innings, MacGuire didn’t allow multiple runs until the final inning, her 16th of the day.
“If it was going to be my last day, I was going to give it my all no matter what,” said MacGuire of her pitching performance.
“I didn’t expect to pitch nine innings in the first game, and that took a little bit of a toll on me,” she added. “USA was just better in the end, and now hopefully they can keep winning for the rest of the Thumb.”
Ashtian Davis and Katelyn Iseler had the Kingston hits in the finals, with Iseler tripling and Davis adding a walk to go with her base hit.
“We gave it a fight and kept it a game, but they’ve got a great pitcher and we couldn’t hit her,” said Kingston coach Tip MacGuire, whose team compiled its first unbeaten regular season in program history this year. “Camryn was a workhorse for us and did a great job of keeping us in the game, and I’m proud of the whole team for making it this far.”
USA broke open its win over Seminary with a 10-run top of the fourth. Pavlichek was the key offensive component with a pair of homers and three RBIs, Dinsmoore homered and scored twice, Zimmer had two hits and two RBIs, Reinhardt had two hits, two runs scored and two RBIs and Danielle Harper had two RBIs and two runs scored.
Since Polega began her USA athletics career, all she’s known is winning. It’s something she said she’ll never take for granted.
“I was talking to Rylee Zimmer the other day, and we haven’t lost a district (in any sport) since we’ve been in high school, which is crazy, especially for her,” said Polega of her senior teammate. “That’s four years, three sports (volleyball, basketball, softball), every single year.
“That’s 12 districts,” she added of Zimmer’s total. “We’ve never gone home (from a postseason) without a trophy.”
Kingston junior Payton Kolacz came up big repeatedly at the plate against the Thunderbolts, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI single, pushing the tying run across in the seventh on a single to send the game to extra innings tied at 4, and doubling into the left-centerfield gap to score Davis for the ninth-inning walk-off.
The Cardinals had to match Au Sauble with an eighth-inning run, which they accomplished on a one-out hit by Iseler followed by pinch-runner Brooke Mooney’s heads-up base running to manufacture the tying marker on a steal, an overthrow to second base that put Mooney on third, and finally, a two-out passed ball. After Davis singled to lead off the ninth, MacGuire laid down a sacrifice bunt to put her on second and set the stage for Kolacz’s game-winning hit.
Kolacz had two hits and three RBIs to lead Kingston’s bats, Davis had two hits, walked twice and scored four times, Iseler had two hits and a walk and Gerilyn Carpenter had a hit and scored a run. MacGuire earned the pitching win, allowing four earned runs on nine hits over nine innings with three walks and 12 strikeouts.
It was a goal of Kingston’s to match up with USA and have a better showing against the Patriots than last year’s loss by mercy shutout in a five-inning district semifinal.
“We made it farther than we did last year,” said Davis, a senior. “Our goal was to get to play USA in the regional final, and we showed improvement against them. They’re a very good team, so I was proud of how we fought until the end.”
Adam Smith is sports editor for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.