It’s been a pretty good spring for Midland Girls Softball League President and Coach Blair Stewart.
The league has increased in player involvement and quality of play in Stewart’s second year in office, while league support has steadily increased. And on Friday, Stewart capped the season by watching his Brandle Roofing team win the 11-year-olds and under championship with an 8-2 win over Midland Golf HQ at Optimist Park.
In a largely contested game, the score was 3-2 after four and a half innings, but Brandle Roofing scored five runs by the end of the fifth inning to extend an unassailable lead. With the MGSL limiting teams to five runs per inning, Midland Golf HQ could not have scored enough runs in the sixth inning to tie, so the game ended in the fifth.
“Actually, I thought it would be tighter, but it didn’t break open until the last inning. … We have a five-run rule, it makes it difficult to come back in one of these games,” said Stewart, who was delighted by the large influx of fans that filled the area past the backstop and stretched across both baselines.
“… Bigger crowds than usual,” he added, smiling. “It’s gotten better every year for the last three years.”
After Brandle Roofing’s Maci Verona beat all three batters she faced in the first inning, her team started the bottom half with a golden scoring opportunity when Kate Lampi took a bunt ahead and reached third base from a miss. Midland Golf HQ pitcher Addison Hills was up to the challenge, however, knocking out the next three batters to close the net.
“The pitching was excellent this year. We’ve got solid pitchers throwing bats like we haven’t had in a long time, and we’ve got some girls throwing mid-40s this year,” Stewart noted. “You could see that at Addison Hills today. She really did it.”
However, Brandle Roofing landed on the board at the end of the second period when Chloe Stewart got the ball from an error, moved up to second through a ground out by Harper Robinson, stole third base and then with a pass ball for a 1-0 :1 came home. 0 lead.
An inning later, Brandle Roofing extended the lead to 3-0. Peyton Larkin brought Callan Brandle in with an RBI single, and after an infield hit from Lampi, Larkin finally scored on a wild pitch.
Midland Golf HQ threatened a top quarter response, taking runners to second and third with a walk to Lily Kelly, a single to left field from Aubrey Mason and a wild pitch. But Brandle Roofing pitcher Chloe Stewart caused a ground-out to get out of the inning.
However, Midland Golf HQ finally broke through at the end of the fifth round.
After Hills walked and Ashlyn Reynolds hit a sharp single into midfield, both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Next, Zoey Hendrickson had to retire to bring Hills home. Reynolds then scored a pass and reduced the deficit to 3-2.
Brandle Roofing’s five runs in the bottom half of the inning put the game out of reach. Brooklyn Becker had a two-run single to right field in the rally while Lampi added an RBI single and Adelaide LeVasseur hit the game-winning run with a grounder to second base.
Stewart was pleased with his team’s aggressiveness on the plate.
“It’s the hardest thing for new players to get over,” he said of swinging the racquet. “The new players, especially when they’re up against someone who’s throwing a little harder, just intercept. But as the season progressed, we just kept following it, getting on the pitching machine and saying, “Hey, you’ve got to at least pitch one.”
“We’ve got a couple of girls who haven’t swung the racquet for almost half the season and now one of them has scored twice tonight,” he added.
The game featured three solid pitching performances, including Hills, who went two innings scoreless and without a hit and hit six of the seven batters she faced for Midland Golf HQ.
Meanwhile, Verona threw two perfect innings for Brandle Roofing, knocking out five of the six batters she faced, while Stewart finished two innings, allowing only one hit and one walk while fanning out four.
“Pitching is completely changing this game and that’s one of the things we’re going to be working on in the near future – just making sure there are good, young pitchers growing up,” said Blair Stewart. “It makes the whole game better.”
Stewart added that he’s thrilled that the community is really starting to get behind the MGSL.
“What strikes me about this season is just the general excitement from parents and fans, the feedback I’m getting. I get a lot of new ideas from people who still want to change some things and make things even better,” he said. “People want to get involved so badly now because they’re like, ‘Hey, I’m going to go out and get you this.’ I will find you a sponsor. I want to help with that.’
“The enthusiasm of the community is really great.”