Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
EAST LANSING — Ravenna softball players’ day Friday started like others during their highly memorable run to Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium and the Division 3 state semifinals.
It began with team breakfast and a batting practice session.
This day was different, however. The Bulldogs boarded a charter bus and were ushered out of town by firetrucks in a send-off featuring dozens of fans lining streets of the town, which was adorned by signs wishing them good luck.
This day was different because once the Ravenna softball team got on the big stage, the typically dialed-in and relaxed Bulldogs appeared be on their heels and stayed there in a 10-1 season-ending defeat to Standish-Sterling.
Senior pitcher Devri Jennings made the ‘Dogs uncomfortable in the batters box, limiting the historically prolific lineup to three hits. Meanwhile, the Panthers were aggressive and opportunistic on offense, rapping out 14 hits and benefitting from three uncharacterisitic Bulldogs errors.
“It was not our day today. Maybe a little bit of nerves, but the pitcher did a pretty good job on us all day long,” said Ravenna coach Dave Sherman, whose team entered the game with an eye-popping, collective .442 batting average, which at the time would have ranked sixth in Michigan High School Athletic Association history for a season.
“I feel sorry for the four seniors. The other ones, they’ll get an opportunity to be back. The four seniors … they started this thing out a long time ago back when they were this tall,” Sherman gestured with his hand at his hip, “so I feel sorry for them.”
In making its first state semifinal appearance since 2005 — when Sherman’s daughter, Abby, was a player — Ravenna closes with a 36-6 record and establishes several team records, including one for most wins in a season.
Meanwhile, 10th-ranked Standish-Sterling (37-7) advances to face Ottawa Lake Whiteford (37-4) in Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. state championship game at Secchia Stadium.
On Friday, Standish-Sterling scored one run in the first inning, one in the third and one in the fourth. The Panthers put it out of reach with two runs in the fifth and five in the sixth.
Jennings, a right-hander who was not overpowering but fired her pitches with a lot of movement, finished with seven strikeouts and no walks. She struck out five of the first six Ravenna batters in the game. The Bulldogs made very little solid contact against her for the game.
“She moved it in and out. She hit us on the handle, I don’t know the total number, but it seemed like she was running it in on us and hitting on the handle,” Sherman said.
Jennings (27-2) was perfect through the first 3 2/3 innings before Ravenna sophomore all-stater and CatchMark SportsNet Player of the Year Emma Herremans hit a solid single up the middle. She threw 78 pitches in seven innings with 55 of them for strikes.
Ravenna senior Ellie Solem and freshman Emily Postema had the other two hits for their team.
“We knew the top of the lineup was going to be tough to get through,” Jennings said. “We knew that going inside was probably going to make them struggle, so we just pounded inside and pounded inside and it worked well for us. I’m proud of my defense and I think we can do it all.”
Postema led off the sixth with a single, stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on senior all-state candidate Emma Gillard’s sacrifice fly.
In Tuesday’s 12-6 quarterfinals victory over fourth-ranked Buchanan, Ravenna rapped out 15 hits, nine of them for extra bases. Jennings and Standish-Sterling, which knocked off top-ranked Evart 10-6 in the regional semifinals, proved a different kind of test for the Bulldogs.
“(Jennings) was a very good pitcher. Honestly, we struggled with the high pitch and we just didn’t settle in the box. We were swinging at her pitches,” Gillard said. “They held the momentum throughout the game and we were trying to switch it, but we just fell short.
“Great pitcher, great team — give all the credit to them.”
Gillard took the pitching loss for Ravenna. The right-hander allowed five runs (three earned) on eight hits with six strikeouts and one walk in four innings.
Gillard (16-3) was relieved by her sophomore sister, Addison, who five runs (only two earned) on six hits with two strikeouts and no walks in two innings of work.
“(Standish-Sterling) didn’t hit us hard — they hit a couple of balls hard — but they just hit balls in the right spots,” Sherman said.
Entering Friday’s game, Ravenna had outscored five state tournament opponents by a combined 55-8 margin.
The Bulldogs just couldn’t get it going against Standish-Sterling.
“I guess we got too much in our own heads,” said Ravenna senior Kara Postema, who will take her talents to Cornerstone University.
Ravenna was dominant through most of the season, although the Bulldogs never cracked the top 10 of the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association Division 3 poll. They were perfect in the West Michigan Conference Rivers Division (10-0). They rolled to Greater Muskegon Athletic Association, district and regional tournament championships. They competed well in the highly touted Blue Chip Best of Michigan softball showcase.
Standish-Sterling was the first Division 3 team to defeat Ravenna this season. The Bulldogs’ other five losses came against strong Division 1 and Division 2 opponents — three of them in walk-off fashion, a fourth by one run, and fifth against a Division I-bound pitcher.
“It was a great season: 36-6, we were in the semifinals, we were in the final four — that’s a great year, it’s a great year,” Sherman said. “On the flip side of that, you always want one more; you always want one more. There’s only one team that’s ever going to end their season (with a victory), but you always want to be that team.”
The Bulldogs, especially their seniors, were understandably emotional after the game. Many tears were shed and embraces were shared.
After a heartfelt speech from the coaches to the players, the Ravenna softball team’s adoring fans who showed up in East Lansing in large numbers applauded the players and greeted them with more hugs.
Sherman, the Bulldogs’ seventh-year head coach, is a Fremont native but he’s been a Ravenna guy for several years now.
“I’ve lived in that town for over 30 years. My wife (Penny) was born and raised in that town and we could tell you that it’s a great town before this (softball run) all started,” he said.
“To have them follow us, the ride here today with the whole fire department was in front us, the crowd, the people lined up the streets and had signs made up. It’s just a great place to live. I don’t care what anybody says — there ain’t no place better than Ravenna.”
The Bulldogs’ day and their season ended in disappointment after the most lopsided loss of the campaign, but that can never diminish the memories created and accomplishments achieved by arguably the best team in Ravenna softball history.
The Bulldogs lose senior starters Gillard, Postema and Solem along with senior reserve Alexis McMahon, but they return a host of talented and hard-working players and they’ll be welcoming more from their stacked Junior Elite program.
Players for Ravenna’s 2023 softball team were like rock stars in the tight-knit community. They captured imaginations and set the stage for what should be a very promising future for the program.
“Getting to this moment, so many younger girls and so many girls realize that they can do it and I think that’s just one of my biggest things (is) for the underclassmen and the young girls to see that this is possible,” Emma Gillard said. “I think going (on) they will achieve the state championship and as they work hard, I know they will and it will be a dream come true for them.”
Gillard, a CatchMark SportsNet Player of the Year finalist, will continue her softball career at Division II Ferris State University. She was a tone-setter for the program with her work ethic and competitiveness.
In Gillard’s three years (her freshman season was canceled by COVID-19), Ravenna amassed a 91-19 record. Several years ago, she and her peers set a goal of getting to state finals weekend. Postcards were made before this season featuring Secchia Stadium and the messages, “A team aligned behind a vision will move mountains,” and “One Team, One Vision, One Goal.”
The Bulldogs worked especially hard in the 2022-23 offseason in preparation for their unforgettable run. They came up two wins short of their ultimate goal — the first state softball championship in school history — but the memories and legacy are indelible.
“We’ve worked super hard — 60,000 cuts we took this year, just to try to prepare for this moment and we’re just one game short (of reaching the finals),” Gillard said. “I’m going to remember this moment, I’m going to remember the friendships, the memories, my coaches. I don’t know, I’m just going to miss all of it — being in this uniform, repping for Ravenna, has just been a dream. I’m just so thankful.
“I’m just so proud of our team to all come together. My community, I’m so grateful that they all came together and supported Ravenna, so it’s just a big blessing and I’m just super thankful to be a part of it.”
Watch the video below for sights and sounds from the Bulldogs’ day:
Listen to a replay of the audio stream of the game produced by CatchMark SportsNet:
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