A thriller, but a heartbreaker: Evart falls in extra innings in state championship game

Wildcats lose on walkoff double by Millington in the eighth inning

EAST LANSING – It was the thriller of thrillers.

But for the Evart Wildcats, it was also the heartbreaker of heartbreakers.

Unranked Evart took No. 1-ranked Millington to extra innings in Saturday’s Division 3 softball game at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium before falling 3-2 on Dylan Holmes’ walkoff RBI double in the bottom of the eighth.

It was the first appearance in a title game for Evart (32-9), which took the game down to the wire against a Millington team (35-3) which had rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh in a semifinal game on Friday to beat Algonac 4-3.

Evart had a 6-1 win over Calvin Christian in the other semifinal round and was set for its first state title game.

Millington’s winning pitcher Ashley Ziel held the Wildcats to four hits but Evart was able to take advantage of her five walks plus six uncharacteristic errors by the Cardinal defense. The Wildcats only had one error to keep itself in the game.

Evart senior pitcher Addy Gray took the pitching loss while allowing three runs, all earned, on eight hits and two walks while striking out six.

“It was a good game overall,” catcher Ally Theunick said. “They’re in the state finals with us. We watched them come back against Algonac and knew they would put it to us. It was a challenge and we knew it was coming. We just didn’t overcome it.”

Theunuick has been Gray’s catcher all year.

“She did amazing,” Theunick said. “One of her pitches weren’t working as they normally do. She overcame that and started throwing them better.”

The game was tense and close all the way. The Cardinals scored in the bottom of the third. Millington loaded the bases and Lilia Sherman lifted a foul fly to right field to score Kendall Payne on a sacrifice and a 1-0 lead.

Center fielder Skylar Baumgardner, who had made a leaping catching of a long fly ball against Calvin Christian on Friday, also did again in the third, when Diel drilled a double to center field. This time, Baumgardner couldn’t hang onto the ball after a leaping stab and the double set up the Cardinals’ scoring opportunity.

Evart tied it the top of the fifth. Brooklyn Decker walked and one out later Kate Gostlin singled Decker to second. Theunick popped out to right field and both runners advanced with Decker scoring on a throwing error to tie the game.

The rest of the game was filled with plenty of drama. In the bottom of the sixth. Emma Dickie doubled home a run for Millington but was thrown out at third base while trying to stretch it into a triple.

In the top of the seventh, Evart placed runners on second and third with no outs and Gray, their best hitter, was at the plate. Gray flied out to left field and Evart pinch-runner Calli Duncan tagged up on the third and raced for home. But left-fielder Shannon Ziel fired a perfect strike to catcher Trinity Fessler for the tag.

“There had to be a perfect throw,” Evart coach Amanda Brown said. “They made the plays. Then we got lucky and got the run home to tie it up. They didn’t give up and didn’t fold.

Kate Gostlin was at the plate and the game was down to its final strike. She was safe on a fielding error which scored Decker from third.

Evart got two runners on base the top of the eighth but couldn’t score.

Millington wasted little time scoring the winning run the bottom of the eighth. After Trinity Fessler reached base on a single, Holmes drilled the first pitch to left field for a double and Fessler was able to score all the way from first base.

Gostlin, Baumgardner, Brigham and Decker had Evart’s four hits. Ziel, Leigh Coleman and Fessler had two hits apiece for Millington.

Brigham and Decker are among the hitters in the lower part of the order who came up big for Evart.

“If the top is not working it seems like the bottom seems to be,” Brown said. “They pick each other up. We have to have a little give and take with it.”

Millington also won the title in 2019.

“It was a great fight to the finish,” Cardinal coach Greg Hudie said. “Evart’s a very good team and kept us off-balanced offensively, which is usually not like my squad. Defensively, I think some of the pressure got to us and we made some errors we don’t usually make. Usually, we’re a more sound team than we showed today. Luckily we were able to finish.

“If someone told me we could win a state championship game with six errors, I would have said you’re crazy and it’s not realistic. We got lucky on that today.”