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‘Just didn’t want it to end:’ Holton softball falls in finals to Unionville-Sebewaing dynasty

Red Devils’ memorable run ends in 11-1 loss to Patriots, who tie MHSAA record with fifth straight state title.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

EAST LANSING — Holton’s softball team did not get the outcome it had hoped for in Saturday’s Division 4 state championship game at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium.

Holton fell to the dynasty that is Unionville-Sebewaing Area, 11-1 in six innings, as the Patriots clinched an MHSAA record-tying fifth straight state championship.

But as Holton four-year starters and senior standouts Abbie Fowler and Ryann Robins departed the field, they were greeted by a throng of applauding Red Devils fans, who were waiting to show love and appreciation. In the end, that’s what made the Holton softball team’s run so special — how the squad and its supporters rallied and made their presence felt.

“Just look over there, there’s 4 million red shirts over there,” Robins said as she glanced to her right at the mob of adoring fans, who were waiting for a postgame interview to complete. “They came here to watch us do something crazy.”

Holton was trying to win its school’s first state softball championship and become the first Muskegon County team in the sport to seize a state crown.

The Red Devils (29-13-1) rattled off 17 straight victories in reaching their first-ever state finals appearance. They posted an impressive 8-0 victory in Friday’s semifinals over a Hillman team that set a record for runs scored in a season.

On Saturday, Holton ran into a buzzsaw. USA (31-11) now has nine state championships and the Patriots achieved their latest feat with strong pitching and powerful hitting.

USA sophomore Olivia Green scattered three hits and allowed one unearned run, striking out 10 and walking two in a complete-game effort. Meanwhile, the Patriots finished with four extra-base hits, including Green’s walk-off double off the top of the wall in left-center field and senior Gabby Crumm’s two-run home run to center field during her team’s six-run fourth inning.

“USA’s good. You know, their fans are crazy. Them kids, they’re not awestruck. Five (state titles) in a row, you know,” Holton coach Kirk Younts said. “Our kids, yeah, we struggled a little bit at the beginning, it was kind of sloppy in the first, second (innings). We haven’t played like that in a long time. But, after that, we cleaned it up.

“I knew they would hit and our pitchers were to mix it up a little bit, but it just didn’t work. Hats off to them — they’re a great team.”

USA took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, getting only two hits but benefitting from a pair of Holton errors.

Holton got on the board in the fifth inning on Fowler’s triple to left field scoring freshman Chloe McKee. Robins and junior Grace Thompsen had the other two hits for the Red Devils.

“I think they just flat-out beat us, you know,” Robins said. “They put the ball in play in big moments that they needed to put the ball in play and we sometimes would capitalize and make good plays but other times they just hit gap shots and it was what they needed.”

USA began its current state-title string in 2019. The 2020 season was canceled because of COVID-19, but the Patriots continued their dominance in 2021. They’re tied with Kalamazoo Christian (1996-2000) for the MHSAA record for most championships in a row.

With a lot of talent returning, USA could be in contention to keep it going. The culture is certainly in place.

“It is so amazing. Just knowing that I was once that little girl looking up to Nikki Bauer, Brynn Polega, Laci Harris,” Green said. “I know now that those (little) girls are looking up to me and my team and it’s just such a great feeling that they want to be like us.”

Win or lose, the end of Saturday’s game was going to be tough for Holton’s seniors. Sure, a state title may have made it sting a little less, but it still would have marked the end of their high school careers.

“It was going to be hard no matter what,” Fowler said as her voice cracked a bit before she balanced her emotions with a chuckle. “It’s sad. It’s sad right now.”

Said an emotional Robins: “I was not ready for this end either way. I didn’t really care how it ended — I just didn’t want it to end.”

Younts said that Holton’s community is “second to none.”

It was evident by the way Red Devils fans traveled to East Lansing on consecutive days and packed their portion of the stands for both games. It was evident by the way the fans hung around for Fowler and Robins, who were the final two players to exit the stadium after their interview finished.

Holton certainly will miss all-staters Fowler and Robins — the latter of whom hit 20 home runs this season and 50 in her career — but Younts said it’s tough to see all of his seniors go.

“It’s kind of painful. You don’t get kids like that every season,” Younts said about losing Fowler and Robins. “To be able to coach them for four years is a gift. Good kids come and good kids go, but when you have some of the seniors like we had this year — and it’s not just Ryann and Abbie.

“It’s Emma Monette, it’s Sydney (McCormick), it’s Cindel (Shaw) — they all contribute in a different way. I will miss them. Them kids are leaders and they’ve showed the kids below them what it takes. They’re going to be missed.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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