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Mendon softball on to Final Four with big win over Dansville

Mendon’s Cienna Nightingale slides safely into home during Tuesday’s quarterfinals victory over Dansville. (Photo courtesy Brandon Watson)

By Steve Eldridge

JACKSON — With Tuesday’s 12-0 state quarterfinals win over Dansville, the Mendon Hornets got the rematch they wanted.

The Hornets will take on the defending state champion Unionville-Sebewaing Patriots in semifinal action on Friday afternoon in East Lansing. The Hornets were eliminated in the Division 4 state finals last season by the Patriots, 5-4.

Tuesday’s game was played under a bright sunny sky at Jackson College, and in the early going, it looked the part of what one would expect for a high school playoff game.

Scoreless after two innings, Mendon got on the scoreboard in the top of the third inning. Jadyn Samson punched a double to left center field, and eventually scored the game’s first run on a fielder’s choice. Meanwhile, starting pitcher Rowan Allen kept the Aggies in check through three, fanning six batters while holding the Aggies scoreless.

Moving to the fourth inning, and clinging to a one-run lead, the Hornet bats suddenly came to life. Brielle Bailey led off the inning with a single, followed by a walk to Ally Butler. Cienna Nightingale stepped to the plate and promptly laced a single to left, scoring Bailey. That gave Mendon a 2-0 lead at that point, but Abby Butler dropped down a bunt for a base hit that would load the bases. Samson then slapped a ground ball to the left side that found its way through the infield, scoring two more runs, and upping the Hornets lead to 4-0.

Allen would then help her own cause by lofting a flyball to left center that would drop in for a two-run hit, and she never stopped running, ending up at third base. That brought Mattea Bingaman to the plate, and she roped a triple to the left field corner, scoring Allen. Dansville managed to retire the side on a fly ball to right, but not before six runs had crossed the plate for Mendon. Allen continued to dominate the Aggies, facing only four batters in the bottom of the fourth inning, getting the third out on a strikeout. 

Leading 7-0 entering the fifth inning, the Hornet bats still had some sting left in them. Nightingale smacked a double to left-center, and a fielder’s choice placed another runner on for the winners. Gracie Schultz would then lace a single to score another Mendon run, moving the lead to 8-0. With two runners on, Allen stepped to the plate and cranked a shot to the right field corner, resulting in a three-run, inside-the-park homer, to put the game out of reach, 11-0. Kaidee Gonser was then hit by a pitch, was able to reach third on a wild pitch, and eventually scored on a passed ball.

Heading to the bottom of the fifth, and leading 12-0, Mendon would then seal the win,  Allen retired the Patriots in order, completing the win with a strikeout to end the game.

Mendon shortstop Jadyn Samson (15) snags a popup in short left field during Tuesday’s quarterfinals win. (Photo courtesy Brandon Watson)

“We knew we had to take care of business to reach the final four. To see them fulfill this dream to get back, not just as a coach, but as a dad of two girls on the team, it’s pretty cool to see what these kids have done,” Hornets Co-coach Steve Butler said.

Allen came up with a strong effort on the mound, fanning eight Dansville batters while allowing only one hit. “It was awesome today,” Allen said. “We just keep fighting as a team and never quit.” 

Commenting on Friday’s rematch with Unionville-Sebewaing, Mendon coach Mike Smith said, “We won’t change anything…the approach will be exactly the same, and we’re not going to mess around. The girls have a routine and they love it. They’ve been there (MSU) before and they understand it. We do the same things every game, so nothing will change for us.”

Mendon enters Friday’s semifinal with a record of 38-4, while the Patriots are 26-11 on the season, and the game is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. The other Division 4 semifinal will take place before the Mendon/Unionville-Sebewaing rematch, with Hillman (40-3) taking on Holt (27-10-1).

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