Big fish, big pond: Millington softball moves on from state title loss with national title contention

Editor’s note: The names of Caro’s Meredith Moore and Frankenmuth’s Kaylee Kujat were inadvertently omitted from this story’s listing of the Millington Cardinals’ 18-under summer softball travel roster in the physical copy of The Advertiser for Wednesday, Aug. 1. The digital edition of the story has been corrected.

BY ADAM SMITH

Sports Editor

NOVI — Six members of the Millington varsity softball team answered the question of how they’d respond to the adversity of a Division 3 state title setback by showing their mettle on behalf of the Millington Cardinals’ 18-under summer team at the national level.

The way they played in going 6-3 and finishing second at the 25-team USA Softball Girls 18-under Class A Northern National Championship that wrapped up over the weekend in Novi wasn’t indicative of a collection of Cardinals looking for anyone’s sympathy. States represented at the tournament in addition to Michigan were Minnesota, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois.

As one might surmise of a top-ranked team for much of the season that invested so much toward its goal of winning a state title, there was some disappointment in the aftermath of the finale to the Cardinals’ high school season. A national title appearance, however, is one to be deeply proud of whether win or lose.

Gabbie Sherman, Leah Denome, Sydney Bishop, Darrien Roberts, McKenna Slough and Hannah Rabideau were all starting contributors to a Cardinals’ varsity group that was ranked first in the state for much of the season.

“They are highly motivated to get back to MSU again and win it all this next year,” said Cardinals’ summer coach Mike Sherman of the Millington varsity’s pursuit of the program’s first ever softball state title. “(Sherman, Denome, Bishop, Roberts, Slough and Rabideau) have been playing summer ball together for several years against the best teams from the Midwest, which helps prepare them to be so successful in high school.”

Joining the Millington nucleus for the summer Cardinals’ travel team were Caro’s Ashlin Murphy and Meredith Moore, Frankenmuth’s Kaylee Kujat, Clarkston’s Marlee Peterson, Byron’s Greta L’Esperance and Walled Lake Northern’s McKenzie Knight.

The team that went on to win the national championship with a 7-0 victory over the Cardinals, the BNGSA Angels 99 from Illinois, was an older, talented collection of women who’d just completed their introductory seasons at the NCAA Division I level. It was the lone shutout of the summer for Millington.

“They were a great team, and it was great for us to see what a Division I college team looks like,” said Sherman.

“Second place is the best finish we’ve had at a national tournament,” he added. “We’ve won a ton of tournaments over the years, but putting it all together at nationals was huge.”

It was one of just a handful of times in recent memory the Cardinals went into a game as underdogs, but by playing competition at that level of ability in the summer, the hope is they’ll be favored to win most if not all of their varsity games next spring with their roster returning intact.

High-profile tournaments like the ones the Cardinals’ summer schedule was loaded with ensured college scouts could continue familiarizing themselves with the program, which has already achieved college commitments from Sherman (Kent State), a senior, and Roberts (Aquinas College), a junior.

“Some girls received offers and are taking the next month to decide on where they’ll play their college ball,” said Sherman. “All 12 girls on our travel-team roster have the ability to play college ball if they choose to.”

The softball offseason has officially arrived for Millington after it began with high school play back in April. It’ll be spent by some of the members of the team playing other sports while others will spend it with practice and repetition to undoubtedly be at their best when next high school softball season comes around.

“We have a few that strictly play softball that’ll hit in the (school batting) cage almost every single day. They are also in the weight room most days,” said Sherman.

The cage that was installed at the school several years ago has given a big boost to the program and paid dividends with improvements in the Cardinals’ ability levels.

“It’s no secret Millington’s bats are shattering state records,” said Sherman. “Hitting in the cage all year and lifting weights are the two contributing factors.”

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