Bennett, Wells each homer in Cardinals' SVC series at Mancelona
MANCELONA – The Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team couldn't escape its usual one-inning letdown that has haunted it in almost each game this season, despite Bailey Bennett and Maggie Wells each homering in its 9-7 and 12-0 losses Friday at Mancelona.
"It's been a work in progress this year," said J-L assistant Ryan Marlatt, who filled in as head coach. "The girls are learning how to compete and not have that letdown and have a competitive edge to them. They're not laying down, but we just got to get six innings put together. It seems like we always have one bad inning that nips us in the bud, which is why we lost two tough ones tonight."
In the first game, the Cardinals (8-14, 4-8 Ski Valley) received a shot in the arm offensively when Bennett smacked a solo home run to right to start the fourth inning. Five at-bats later, Wells singled to right to score Chelsea Ramage and Holly Kussrow, trimming J-L's deficit to 7-4 before Mancelona added the winning runs in the fifth.
"In the bottom of the fifth, they (Mancelona) had a couple of bloop hits, and we had a couple of throwing errors," Marlatt said. "We had one bad inning, and that's when things unraveled for us."
Bennett and Wells each finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs and one run. Bennett's dinger was the fifth of her career and third this spring.
Jessie Marlatt scattered 11 hits in five innings, but the freshmen struck out two Ironmen and gave up only four earned runs.
The Cardinals fumbled an early 6-0 advantage in Game 2, allowing Mancelona to plate 12 runs throughout four of the final five innings.
Wells' first career homer drove in Ramage and ignited a six-run second inning for the Cardinals. Trailing 12-10 in the final frame, Bennett tripled to score Grace Boden and Arielle Vermilya grounded out to bring home Bennett, but the two runs weren't enough for a comeback.
Bennett went 4-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs, while Ramage and Boden each finished 3-for-4. Boden, Vermilya and Wells each drove in a pair of runs, while Wells struck out three in five innings.
"We hit the ball really well tonight," Coach Marlatt said. "Even though we're in a lot of games, we just got to learn how to finish them. We're competing, and they're getting better with each series."
Bennett homers as Cardinals sweep Eagles in SVC doubleheader
By Brandon Folsom ~ Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG – Perhaps Bailey Bennett has the lucky bat after all.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team swept visiting Bellaire 14-0 and 16-6 in a Ski Valley doubleheader Monday for perhaps its best outing of the spring.
After Bennett homered in Game 1, all the Cardinals wanted to use her bat because they thought it was lucky.
If must have been because the Cardinals (8-12, 4-6 Ski Valley) collected 15 hits as a team.
"Everyone gets excited when I hit home runs, to the point where everyone starts using my bat afterward," said Bennett, who now has four career homers. "Our team bought the same brand and model of bat I had last year, but they still choose to use mine because it's lucky. I think at least three of them used it tonight."
J-L scored six runs in the first inning, three in the second and one in the fourth.
Bennett's three-run dinger helped the Cardinals score four times in the third.
"Hopefully, this is a precursor to what the rest of the season is going to look like," Bennett said. "Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going."
Bennett, who was the 2016 Herald Times Player of the Year, finished 3-for-3 batting with three RBIs and three runs. Jessie Marlatt was 3-for-3 with two RBIs and one run, and Arielle Vermilya and Chelsea Ramage each finished with two hits, two RBIs and two runs.
"Bailey got the home run and got us going with the momentum," Ramage said. "Tonight, their pitcher was putting them in the right spot for me. She had a couple of walks and then got tired of walking everybody, so she gave me some good pitches I needed.
"They were low-corner balls, and I snagged them using my heavy bat."
Marlatt threw a one-hitter, struck out eight and lasted five innings.
"They came ready to play and came out strong," J-L coach Kim Marlatt said. "Jessie pitched a really good game. They had a couple of little dribblers on her, but we made those plays. They were ready to play tonight, and I was very pleased with that."
A pair of five-run innings in the first and third frames helped J-L top Bellaire in the second game, while the Cardinals out hit the Eagles 14-7
Ramage led the way with four RBIs on two hits, and Maggie Wells helped with two hits and three RBIs. Anika Kierczynski drove in a pair of runs, while Bennett and Grace Boden each finished with two hits and three runs.
In the circle, Wells struck out five and gave up seven hits, two earned runs and two walks in five innings.
Ramage said the sweep had much do with J-L's five freshmen starters stepping up and contributing.
"Definitely, the freshmen are stepping up," the senior said. "The freshmen and sophomores are stepping up and getting their bats going. They're seeing what the upperclassmen are doing, and they're pushing us around the bases like we were pushing them around the bases earlier in the season."
Wells, Marlatt stand tall for Cardinals against No. 1 Bulldogs
OHANNESBURG – All across Otsego County, varsity softball teams are in the midst of rebuilding years and relying on youth to lead the way.
That's especially true in the circle. At Gaylord, the Blue Devils have freshmen Mackenzie Wright and Savanna Gapinski pitching, while Summer Sullivan is pushing the up-and-coming St. Mary squad as only a freshman pitcher, too.
Johannesburg-Lewiston is no different. The Cardinals (4-10, 2-4 SVC) share pitching duties between freshmen Maggie Wells and Jessie Marlatt.
During a Ski Valley doubleheader Monday, they gave those two rookies a true taste of what varsity softball is like.
Wells and Marlatt each pitched against No.1-ranked Inland Lakes, a series the Bulldogs swept 20-2 and 14-3 after collecting five home runs.
"These girls are holding their own pitching – they really are," J-L coach Kim Marlatt said. "They're throwing great pitches and doing a heck of a job as freshmen.
"Since I've worked with them since they were 9- and 10-year-old Little League players, I know what they can throw, and we can count on them. If they're down in the the count, they can throw a strike if we need. Yes, they're young, but they're getting the job done.
"There are going to be some games where they make mistakes, but we're going to keep throwing them."
Wells gave up 15 earned runs and three homers in the first game, while Jessie Marlatt allowed six earned runs and two dinger's in the nightcap.
"We're not letting it get to us," Wells said. "It's different having people hit off me so hard. I'm so used to having people not hit off me because I was a faster pitcher than other pitchers (as a Little League player). I think we're doing excellent now.
"You just got to move on."
Wells also relies on her experience playing with the Moran Iron Works Vulcans travel team from Onaway the past few summers.
"(Playing against good teams like Inland Lakes) doesn't faze me as much because I've got experience playing for the Vulcans," the freshman said.
"But I've never pitched for the Vulcans, and I usually play in the outfield the most. We have absolutely amazing pitchers (at that level), so this year I've had my ups and downs pitching. I've changed the way I pitched and have definitely changed my accuracy."
Mady Hague drove in J-L's lone run in the first game, and Alyce Vermilya had its only hit.
In the second game, Bailey Bennett led the Cardinals with three hits and one RBI, and Anika Kierczynski also drove in one score.
"They (Inland Lakes) are a great team, and I just felt like the girls did a great job," Coach Marlatt said. "They're coming in and holding their own. We made some defensive plays and started to hit the ball in the second game.
"Our younger girls played well, and Maggie and Jessie pitched well and will regroup before our next game."
Hague straightens out hitting for Cardinals in Val Kapture tournament
JOHANNESBURG – Mady Hague always has the advice of a pair of expert coaches to fall back on.
After a fielding gaffe Thursday at St. Mary, she regained her confidence by talking with Johannesburg-Lewiston assistant softball coach Ryan Marlatt.
So when she got into a hitting slump Saturday, she focused on the advice of another coach, her off-season instructor, Greg Jones.
The senior went 1-for-4 during a 13-5 loss to Mancelona in the opening round of the annual Val Kapture tournament. She rebounded one game later, collecting three hits and two runs in a 6-5 defeat to Lincoln Alcona in a consolation game.
"I couldn't hit off the pitcher (in the first game), so I told myself that the next game I'd get a hit," Hague said. "I started to focus and calmed myself down, and I just hit the ball. Sometimes I get really bad anxiety in the box and freak out, so I need someone to sit there and tell me to calm down.
"It's the whole mental state of the mind I focused on."
Hague said Jones has worked with her to improve everything from her stance to even how she approaches bunting.
"My batting last year was horrible," she said. "I think (Jones' advice) is helping me a lot. I've tried to get my bunting down, but I'm focusing mostly on regular hitting now. He helped me a lot with my stance and how to plant my foot because I used to drag my foot when I hit.
"He's helped me figure out a stance to move my feet like I want to and still connect with the ball and move my hips with my swings."
Unfortunately, Hague's improved hitting couldn't help the Cardinals (4-8, 2-2 SVC) get past Alcona in the nightcap.
A four-run fifth inning, highlighted by a two-run single by Maggie Wells, gave J-L a 5-2 lead.
However, the Tigers responded in the bottom of the inning by scoring three runs to knot the score. They tacked on the winning run one frame later.
"For the weekend, the girls played well," J-L coach Kim Marlatt said. "We hit the ball well and made some defensive plays.
"It's just that one bad inning we have to find a way to overcome."
Arielle Vermilya drove in a pair of runs and doubled once, while Wells pitched a complete game and struck out six and allowed three earned runs.
"Arielle had a couple of hits, so we started hitting," Coach Marlatt said. "It was just the (two) errors building up."
In the tournament opener, Mancelona had 12 hits as a team and scored nine runs in the final three innings to secure the victory.
That included the Cardinals giving up four runs in the fifth frame.
"It's just the one bad inning we cannot stop having," Coach Marlatt said. "We started out against Mancelona, and I thought we played well. But we had two innings with passed balls on the infield, and these girls couldn't get past making a mistake. It just kept building off those (five errors)."
Grace Boden led the Cardinals with three hits, three runs and one RBI. One of those hits was a home run for the sophomore. Chelsea Ramage added two hits, two RBIs and tripled once.
In the circle, Jessie Marlatt fanned four and allowed four earned runs and two walks in six innings. Anika Kierczynski pitched one inning in relief.
Coach Marlatt said her team will focus on avoiding errors in the future by working on game-like scenarios in practice.
"We're going to keep working on more game-like situations," she said. "Because we're a younger team, when we get the ball, we're like, 'Where am I going to go with it? What's the next play?' So, hopefully, that will help cut down on some of these errors."
GAYLORD – The St. Mary softball team needed a shot in the arm Thursday.
The Snowbirds were trailing rival Johannesburg-Lewiston in Game 1 of a Ski Valley doubleheader. Up to bat came their lone senior, Gabby Schultz, and she knew she had to help get her team's bats going.
She swung and belted a home run past the fences of William Mackowiak Sports Complex. The play inspired the Snowbirds (7-4, 6-4 SVC) to score six unanswered runs and beat J-L, 10-4.
St. Mary edged J-L 7-5 in the nightcap as well.
"That definitely was a shot in the arm for us," said St. Mary coach Pat Schultz, who is Gabby's dad. "That seemed to tip the momentum in our favor. I think we scored a couple of runs and were able to answer back with them.
Ramage's defense guides Cardinals to split with Lancers
EAST JORDAN – Chelsea Ramage ate tacos for dinner the night before.
The senior was a vacuum at first base, making three diving plays and helping the Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team split with Ellsworth during a non-conference doubleheader on a neutral site.
The game was moved to East Jordan because Ellsworth's field was water logged.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals (4-4, 2-0 SVC) walked away with a 3-0 win in Game 1 before losing in the nightcap, 7-5.
"I couldn't really tell you what got into me, but it might have been just what I had to eat yesterday," said Ramage, talking about her solid day defensively. "I'm starting to play harder with the defense right behind me with all the freshmen and sophomores there.
"If I make a diving catch and get up and go to throw, I know I have a team behind me I can trust to make the next play and keep going. I know it's not going to turn into nothing."
Ramage, who has played almost every infield position in her four-year career, said luck and fear both played a role in each of her highlight-reel plays.
"One of them was when a girl swung late and it came right off her bat and right at me," Ramage recalled. "I panicked, put my glove up and got lucky catching it.
"Another one, me and Alyce (Vermilya) took off after it and it looked closer to me, so I dove for it and caught it when I hit the ground, and the other one was a backhand that I got."
The plays were enough to excite Ramage's first-year coach, Kim Marlatt.
"We played some good ball and were making plays defensively," Marlatt said. "Especially Chelsea Ramage. She made some nice line-drive catches and a diving catch for a foul ball to get an out.
"They were nice plays defensively – line-drive shots. One of them was a diving catch to get the last out of the first game, and she did a nice job today."
In the first game, Maggie Wells singled to second base to score Ramage for the winning run in the second inning.
Jessie Marlatt bunted to push in Wells for a run in the fifth inning, while Ramage added an insurance run when her hard ground ball to right field scored Arielle Vermilya.
Ramage and Wells led the Cardinals with two hits apiece.
Marlatt pitched a complete game, struck out two Lancers and walked only one.
The Cardinals experienced a collapse in the second game, giving up a 5-1 lead by allowing Ellsworth to score three runs in each of the third and fourth innings.
"We started out strong and hitting the ball," Coach Marlatt said. "We kind of went dead flat and stopped hitting and made defensive errors in the outfield. We had some miscommunication between the catcher and pitcher."
Grace Boden paced J-L by recording three hits, two triples, two RBIs, one double and one run, while Bailey Bennett added two hits, drove in one run, tripled, doubled and scored once.
Wells struck out five in five innings but gave up six hits, four earned runs and two walks.
Despite the two-inning letdown, the Cardinals walked away happy with the series split.
We're pulling together as a team, and it's starting to see on the field," Ramage said. "We always see it in practice with us helping each other and showing each other the mistakes we make and where we can take away the bloop's and mistakes."
Pitching guru the secret behind Cardinals' pitching success vs. Tigers
JOHANNESBURG – John Mayernick, a softball guru from Atlanta, helped former Johannesburg-Lewiston pitcher Allison Ellis garner Herald Times Player of the Year honors in 2014 with his private instruction.
Mayernick has since returned to the area to train a few of J-L's up-and-coming pitchers.
That extra work came in handy, as a pair of Cardinals pitched lights out in a split with visiting Lincoln Alcona in a non-conference doubleheader Wednesday.
The Tigers took the first game 6-4, but J-L bounced back to win the nightcap 8-3 in an all-out team effort.
"A lot of time – during practice, especially – pitchers don't get to pitch," J-L coach Kim Marlatt said. "They got to put in extra time. Sometimes we might stay 10 minutes after practice to pitch or have them come in early to pitch.
"That's not enough time to come in and learn to pitch well. Maggie Wells and Jessie (Marlatt) have both been working with a pitching coach, John Mayernick from Atlanta, and have put in extra time. That has shown with both of them."
In the first game, the Cardinals (3-3, 2-0 SVC) surrendered a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth by allowing Alcona to knot the score. The Tigers went on to score a run in each of the ensuing innings.
Marlatt pitched a complete game, fanning seven Tigers and giving up five earned runs, 14 hits and no walks.
Grace Boden led J-L with three hits, one RBI, one run and a triple, and Mady Hague added two hits and two runs.
"Overall, I want to say the girls played really well in both games," Coach Marlatt said. "We lost the first game, but our hitting was there and our pitching was there. We did a lot of good things."
The Cardinals scored four runs in the second inning to earn the win in Game 2.
That frame saw Boden's ground ball push in Wells for the winning score.
Wells pitched a complete game, striking out eight and giving up only eight hits, two walks and two earned runs.
"Maggie pitched really, really well," Coach Marlatt said. "I think she came in and did a nice job for us, and I think she has the focus she needs to (pitch well).
"Obviously, she's working outside of practice to mark herself better, and she throws the ball really well."
Wells drove in three runs and added a double, while Anika Kierczynski scored three runs and had two hits.
"Our two freshmen girls pitched well," Coach Marlatt said. "The top of our batting order hit really well tonight. I was very pleased with both games, even though we lost one. We did a lot of good things and played some good softball.
"They played well together. They made nice plays in the field and hit the ball."
Of course, Coach Marlatt first stumbled upon Mayernick when she was watching Ellison pitch.
So far, so good for the guru's tutelage with the two J-L rookie hurlers.
"He worked with Allison Ellis throughout her career, and that's how I learned of him," Coach Marlatt said. "I struck up a conversation with him and asked him to start with my two girls. Maggie has worked with him, too."
Young Cardinals sweep Warriors in impressive fashion
JOHANNESBURG – The Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team will be really, really, really fun to watch in the future.
But right now, they're young players are just really fun to watch.
In a Ski Valley doubleheader Tuesday, the Cardinals' underclassmen pushed their team to a 7-6 comeback win over Forest Area in the first game and then pulled off a shorthanded 6-2 victory in the nightcap.
"Our freshmen played well, and, overall, we came out playing really well tonight," J-L coach Kim Marlatt said. "For not playing since April 10, and all we've done is practice, we had one bad inning in the first game, and I'm OK with one bad inning. Our freshmen girls are getting stronger. They'll make mistakes, but they can overcome them."
In the first game, the Cardinals (2-2, 2-0 SVC) trailed 6-5 entering the final inning.
Grace Boden smacked a line-drive double that brought home Mady Hague for the tying run. Three at-bats later, Boden raced home from third base on a passed ball to record the walk-off winning score.
Bailey Bennett and Boden each led with two hits apiece, while Hague and Boden each scored a pair of runs.
In the circle, Anika Kierczynski struck out seven Warriors while throwing a complete game.
Before the second game started, three upperclassmen left because they had a college class to attend.
That placed a lot of pressure on Marlatt's younger players.
"The freshmen had to step it up," the first-year coach said. "And they showed what they're capable of. We have a lot of talent, and I think we're capable of getting out there and winning games."
A four-run fourth inning gave the Cardinals the sweep. That frame saw Holly Kussrow and Jessalyn Marlatt each score on the same passed ball to record the winning runs.
Chelsea Ramage's two hits and one RBI paced J-L's offense, followed by McKenna Hogle, who drove in two runs.
Marlatt (six strikeouts) and Maggie Wells (seven) each pitched three innings.
"In the second game, Maggie and Jessie pitched really well for two freshmen," Coach Marlatt said. "I was very pleased."
Seven underclassmen played in the nightcap.
"Our younger girls did a great job, and that says a lot for our program's future," Coach Marlatt said. "You get girls like Bailey Bennett and Anika Kierczynski leaving for college, and we were still able to be competitive."
Marlatt takes over youthful Cardinals as new softball coach
JOHANNESBURG – Kim Marlatt hopes to one day get the Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team to a point where it's competitive against Ski Valley teams such as Inland Lakes, the top-ranked team in Division 4, and Onaway, an honorable mention.
Marlatt, a longtime Little League and tee ball coach, replaces Ashlie House, who spent the past four seasons coaching the Cardinals.
Some of the players Marlatt coached at the youth level are freshmen and sophomores on this year's squad. That's good news, seeing as many of them will get immediate playing time.
"This freshmen group is a group that I've been with since the start of our Little League program and tee ball," said Marlatt, who also has coached J-L's JV girls basketball and volleyball teams. "I know their ins and outs because I've had them since they were tee-ballers. And I've been with the Little League program for the list five or six years building that program, so I want to continue to see it build (at the varsity level) and put J-L on the map for softball.
"We'd like to contend for a Ski Valley title, and I know Inland Lakes and Onaway are tough teams, but I think in the next couple of years, we can be there with them at that competitive level, too."
The Cardinals (0-2) have a slew of underclassmen, including some who saw significant playing time in Monday's season opener at Hillman, a doubleheader the Tigers beat J-L twice in.
They include Alyce Vermilya, Arielle Vermilya, Kamryn Kennedy, McKenna Hogle, Holly Kussrow, Jessalyn Marlatt and Maggie Wells.
"It (success of the underclassmen) can go either way this season," Marlatt said. "We were going to make cuts, but we can't cut our freshmen. Those girls are our future. They're a strong set of seven freshmen, and we have our seniors who have been there building the program, so we have depth at each position. Sometimes that can be a good thing, especially if one girl isn't on, we can put in another girl who can do just as good of a job. We've very fortunate about that."
Of course, the Cardinals will have a handful of experienced players, including senior Bailey Bennett, who finished last season as the Herald Times' Player of the Year. As a junior, she led J-L (5-24) with a .443 batting average and .671 slugging average. She also finished with two home runs, one against Lincoln Alcona and another against Manton, which were the first two homers of her career.
The only difference for Bennett this spring is she is moving from the outfield to third base.
"The outfield is more about needing to know where the play is so you can back up (the infielders) and make the occasional play at second, third and home," the senior said. "Third base is focused on the immediate out at first, twisting it out or covering your own bag.
"I'm just hoping to improve my defensive game since I'm playing third base now. Hopefully, I can improve my on-base percentage and hit a few more home runs in games this year, too."
Bennett spent the off-season by continuing to work with her private instructor, Greg Jones, a local legend who has helped sharpen the games of several former HT Player of the Year winners.
"I've worked with him all fall and winter, and I'm doing a session with him right now," she said. "Right now, I'm working more on my timing (while hitting) and being able to hit all kinds of pitches wherever they are compared to just getting my swing down."
Bennett said coming into her final season with the Cardinals as last year's Player of the Year is an honor, but she wants to make sure she exits this spring by giving it everything she has.
"Being the Player of the Year last year means that everybody has high expectations of me," she said. "My expectations for myself are high, too, and I'm trying to improve and better myself from last year. I hope to say that my four years playing Johannesburg-Lewiston varsity softball paid off, and I'm hoping that we can at least make it all the way through districts."
Other returners looking to continue where they left off are Chelsea Ramage at first base; Grace Boden at shortstop; Torrie Crandell at second base; Anika Kierczynski both at pitcher and second base; and Destiny Pryor, Jordyn Stark and Madison Hague in the outfield.
Mikayla Tranchida and Devyn McVannel round out the Cardinals' roster.
Cardinals' defensive struggles show in opener loss to No. 5 Tigers
HILLMAN – With the travel team experience the up-and-coming Johannesburg-Lewiston softball team has, the future is definitely bright for the Cardinals in the next two or three seasons.
But for right now, the freshmen- and sophomore-laden Cardinals (0-2) will have to take their lumps as they continue to improve.
That was especially so in Monday's opener at fifth-ranked Hillman, as the perennial Division 4 powerhouse swept the Cardinals 15-0 and 18-3 in a non-conference doubleheader.
"Everything should go up from here," said J-L senior Bailey Bennett, who was the Herald Times' Player of the Year last spring. "This was a good first game to figure out what we need to work on before the rest of the season gets going because it wasn't a league game."
The Tigers used a nine-run second inning in the first game and a 17-run first inning in the nightcap to pull off the sweep.
In the first game, Grace Boden and Chelsea Ramage each notched one hit for the Cardinals, whose defense gave up 10 hits in all.
They rebounded in the second game, however, and showed a spark that made first-year coach Kim Marlatt optimistic going forward.
Outside of an improve defensive effort, the Cardinals manufactured three runs, including two in the first and one in the second.
"In the second game, we actually started hitting the ball and fielding better, compared to the first game where we had silly mistakes and couldn't catch fly balls in the outfield," Marlatt said.
"They just started to field the ball better."
The Cardinals took a 2-0 lead after Alyce Vermilya hit a grounder that scored Madyson Hague, while Boden managed to steal home with Torrie Crandall at the plate.
They tacked on one more run an inning later after Maggie Wells scored on a passed ball with Hague up to bat.
Vermilya, Crandell, Boden and Hague each finished with one hit.
"I think our base running was more improved from our scrimmage (against Atlanta) last Friday," Bennett said.
J-L's downfall was its pitching and defense.
Wells started the first game and gave up eight earned runs.
In the second matchup, the Cardinals relied on three pitchers. Jessalyn Marlatt started, but the freshman was pulled after giving up eight earned runs in the first inning. Anika Kierczynski, a two-year starter in the circle for J-L, and Wells pitched the rest of the way.
"We had two young freshmen pitchers and catchers, and I think they did a good job playing against a good team like Hillman," Coach Marlatt said. "Maggie Wells did well in the first game, starting out as a freshman out there. Jessalyn struggled a bit, so we put Maggie back in, and we finished up with Anika.
"They didn't do too bad considering we had only two practices outside before we played this game."
The Cardinals open Ski Valley play when they host Pellston for a doubleheader at 4 p.m. Monday, April 17.
Coach Marlatt hopes to get her team outside some more to work on more defensive fundamentals before that series starts.
"We're going to keep working on some outfield things and going forward, we'll work on fly balls, footwork and that kind of stuff," she said. "That was our weakest area tonight."
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