HALE – Few would have predicted before the season began that the Hale girl’s softball team possessed the numbers, never mind the talent, to accomplish any kind of success this spring. Let alone do something no Eagles team had ever done before.
Not in 46 years. Or since 1975, when the Michigan High School Athletic Association started the girl’s softball tournament.
The Eagles won a district softball title.
The Eagles had just four seniors, and one of them spent most of the season quarantined at home because of COVID-19 issues; One junior who hadn’t played very much; and a bunch of sophomores who were just starting their high school careers.
With so many new and inexperienced girls filling starting roles, the Eagles understandably had some difficulty putting things together.
“It’s probably the most interesting one I’ve ever had,” Head Coach Ralph Cadwell said. “I felt like I was doing Little League again. To watch them develop and come along was a great feeling.
“After three games, one of them even asked me ‘What are balls and strikes?’ Really. We had base running mistakes. Until they finally figured it out, and it clicked.”
But the Eagles had it figured out long before the districts, smashing 15 base hits in the title game against Augres-Sims en route to a whopping 16-3 victory.
Earlier in the regular season Augres-Sims had beaten the Eagles four straight times, all by more than 10 runs. This time, the Eagles did the blasting.
Morgan Vance and Shailey Brandt were the hitting leaders for the Eagles, each knocking out three safeties. Dalaney Kimmerer, Claudia Cadwell (the coach’s daughter) and Erica Hewitt stroked out two hits apiece, while Abby Parkinson, Skyler Lauria and Bailey Hewitt each had one.
Vance was the Eagles’ shortstop, and she had the game of her life in the finals, showing incredible range in getting to anything hit near her.
She made all the stops, and all the throws. She also was 5-for-5 at the plate in a 9-7 win over Mio earlier in the day. Parkinson had three hits. Cadwell had nine strike outs.
Cadwell did most of the pitching this year and threw both games in the districts. She struck out four against Augres-Sims.
When she wasn’t pitching, Cadwell was behind the plate as a catcher, or played shortstop. She could play any position and finished the season with a .990 fielding average.
Vance, meanwhile, was a solid defender as well, with a .900 fielding percentage. As a hitter, Vance had no peers, batting 20 percent higher than Cadwell.
Both hit home runs. Cadwell led in doubles, while Vance led in triples and singles … but not by much. Vance was tops on the team in stolen bases and stole home three or four times.
Leadership was also on their plate.
“They took it on themselves to teach the younger girls, because they wanted to win,” the coach said. “Vance was my best catcher, third baseman, center fielder, period.
“Claudia was the best pitcher, shortstop and first base. But, she could play all the other ones, too. They kind of stepped up. I think it helped a lot, them working with those girls. It made a big difference.”
Because he had so many inexperienced girls Cadwell found that they had a difficult time hitting the ball in practice, so he slowed it down.
Once they got their hitting shoes broken in, Cadwell gradually sped things up, eventually ramping things up until the Eagles were hitting balls thrown at 55 miles per hour.
The girls the Eagles faced in the districts were throwing hard and fast, and Hale wound up belting the ball all around the field, and pushing runs across.
“That’s how far the girls came,” Cadwell said. “I think we really turned it around in a 5-3 loss to Rogers City. It all just kind of clicked.
“In the beginning the biggest problem was figuring out where to put the girls. Finally, we found the right combination. It was awesome just watching them grow.”
Emotions were spilling over after the district championship trophy was presented to Cadwell, who handed it to his team to hoist high for their fans to see.
Cadwell had mixed feelings afterward. It marked his final game as the Eagles coach.
“What was worse was them asking me to please come back next year,” Cadwell said. “I said, ‘No. I’m tired.’ I need to take my time and do something else.
“I’m thinking of doing travel ball. I’m going to be 66 this year. When I first started my daughter was only in the sixth grade. I knew she was coming up, and I was doing travel ball.
“That made me stick with it until she was done.”