EAST LANSING — The finish was eerily familiar. Except this time, it wasn’t a happy ending for the Algonac softball team.
Just like the Muskrats had done three days earlier, their opponent pulled out a stunner when down to its last strike.
“We had it right there,” Algonac coach Len Perkins said. “We had it right where we wanted them. But then they hit the ball and it made a difference.”
The Muskrats dropped a heartbreaker, 4-3, to Millington in a Division 3 state semifinal at Secchia Stadium on Friday morning. They finished the season at 32-4.
“That’s what happens when you get into crunch time,” Perkins said. “You’ve got to come up with big plays or you’ve got to get the big hit. We had our chances … and we didn’t get hits in those situations.”
Algonac opened in an ideal situation. Ella Stephenson (3-for-4, two runs, one RBI) hammered a ball over the wall in center field to give the Muskrats a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Her shot silenced Millington’s fans and energized the Algonac crowd.
“She had a great day,” Perkins said.
Kenna Bommarito (6.2 innings, 10 strikeouts, eight hits) started just as fast on the mound. The sophomore retired the first four batters she faced. By the end of the fifth inning, Bommarito amassed eight strikeouts and had only allowed two hits.
“Up until the last inning, she did a heck of a job,” Perkins said. “She’s a good one.”
The Muskrats added to their lead in the sixth. After Sierra Vosler led off with a triple, Brianna Thomason sent her home on an RBI single to short. That put Algonac in front, 2-0.
But the Cardinals had an answer. In the inning’s bottom half, they got on the board courtesy of Trinity Fessler’s RBI single to center. Bommarito quickly quelled Millington’s momentum with a strikeout during the next at-bat.
Algonac got the run back in the seventh. Jaycee Reams drove in Stephenson from second on a single. That gave the Muskrats a 3-1 advantage, but trouble loomed.
With her Cardinals on the ropes, Ashley Ziel tied the game with a two-run single that landed at the warning track, sending the Millington faithful into a frenzy.
Perkins called time and gathered his infield for a meeting on the mound. He spoke to Bommarito during that brief moment.
“(I told her) to just throw strikes and let your defense play,” Perkins said. “But you noticed what happened? They hit the ball where there was no defense.”
It was Leah Coleman’s two-RBI double to right field that sealed Algonac’s fate. Ziel easily scored from second and Millington’s dugout poured onto the field in celebration.
“I mean those two balls — up the alley, up the alley — if they were to us, we could’ve made the plays,” Perkins said. “But they just found the holes at the right time. That’s the game of softball. That’s what happened.”
A rally that lasted two minutes abruptly ended the best season in team history for Algonac. The Muskrats clinched their first-ever regional championship on June 11. They followed that up with the program’s first state quarterfinal game on Tuesday.
“It was a great season — 32-4 is not bad,” Perkins said.
And there’s a good chance they’ll be even better next year. Much of the current roster will carry over.
“We lose (four) seniors,” Perkins said. “And they did a pretty good job. But we have a good group coming in and we’ll have seven or eight girls back.”
Two of those returning players are Bommarito and Stephenson, who already possess elite talent. Other key returners include Deanna DeLange, Reams and Vosler.
“If they work hard this summer and in the offseason, we could have a nice little ball club next year too,” Perkins said. “We can (make it) work.”
Contact Brenden Welper at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.
This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Algonac softball’s magical run to state semifinal ends in a heartbreak