Scott Combs enjoyed a nice trip back home to Battle Creek this weekend.
Combs, a Cereal City native, coached his Livonia Ladywood Blazers to a 4-0 victory over Saginaw Swan Valley in the Division 2 finals in the Michigan High School Athletic Association state softball tournament, winning a state championship trophy at Bailey Park on Saturday afternoon.
“I went to Harper Creek and played ball at Bailey Park for 10 to 12 years,” Combs said. “I grew up here, love it here and my parents still live here. It feels great to win here.”
Combs’ Blazers made the trip to Battle Creek twice before, losing in the championship game in 2009 and the semifinals in 2011, before coming away with the school’s first state championship in school history.
This year’s road to victory was no cakewalk as Combs’ daughter and Livonia Ladywood’s ace, Briana Combs, aggravated a knee injury in the semifinals and was unable to pitch in the championship game.
Lauren Hayes stepped in with an MVP performance, though, throwing a complete-game, three-hit shutout, while going 3-for-3 from the plate with two RBI and two runs scored.
“Two months ago (Hayes) threw so bad, she was ready to quit pitching and I said ‘you have to get on the horse and keep throwing,'” Scott Combs said. “So she went to the bullpen every day and kept working and working and we said ‘at some point you’re going to have to step in and do something.’ My hat’s off to her for the work she’s put in.”
“I had no idea coming into this game that I was going to pitch,” said Hayes, who only pitched a few innings all year long. “I knew I had to do my best and focus and my teammates had my back for the whole game.”
Hayes got the first hit of the game for the Blazers when she led off the fourth inning with a single. Later in the inning Celeste Fidge doubled her home, giving the Blazers a 1-0 advantage.
It was the first earned run that Saginaw Swan Valley’s Mackenzie Boehler had given up in the last eight games.
Saginaw Swan Valley also didn’t get a hit until the fourth inning when Elizabeth Addy singled. A couple batters later Heather Pollick curved a deep fly ball just outside the leftfield foul pole as she barely missed a homerun that would’ve given the Vikings a 2-1 lead. Pollick went on to draw a walk, but Hayes retired the next batter and Livonia Ladywood escaped the inning unscathed.
Hayes had another big hit in the fifth when she singled in a run with two outs, making the score 2-0.
In the seventh Hayes struck again, this time with an RBI triple to the right field fence. And when Fidge drove Hayes in on a fielder’s choice, Livonia Ladywood had a comfortable 4-0 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh Hayes retired the side in order to close out the game and the Blazers were free to celebrate their first state championship.
Danielle Freeman singled and came around to score on an error in the bottom of the 10th as Hudsonville edged defending champ Mattawan, 2-1.
Hudsonville (40-3) trailed 1-0 after the first inning, but tied it in the bottom of the second before the marathon finish. Freeman went 3-for-4 in the game; teammates Brooke Agers (RBI), Lexi Agers and Ellie Adams had two hits apiece; and Lexi Agers struck out eight in 10 innings pitched.
Mattawan (33-11) received two hits each from Kyla Nickrent, Sarah Johnson and Emily McCarty, and Stacy Thompson was the losing hurler with eight strikeouts.
Tierney Nelson scattered six hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts as Clinton blanked Gladstone, 4-0.
Nelson, Abi Clark and Cami Prater had a hit and an RBI apiece for Clinton (43-1). Katie Becker went 3-for-4 and Whitney Wells had two hits for Gladstone (30-6-1).
Dansville scored twice in the bottom of the sixth to overcome a 2-1 deficit and edge Petersburg-Summerfield, 3-2.
Evy Lobdell went 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Aggies (31-5), Paige Galbreath and Taylor Hoefling had a hit and an RBI, and Meagan Kelly was the winning pitcher. Taylor Goodin went 2-for-3 with an RBI for P-S (34-4), and losing pitcher Emily Puterbaugh K’d six.