Niles softball wins state title

Published 6:55 am Tuesday, June 16, 2009

By SCOTT NOVAK / Niles Daily Star

BATTLE CREEK – Mission accomplished.

The 2009 Niles varsity softball team began a mission four months ago to finish what they started last season.

The No. 10 ranked Lady Vikings were defeated in the state quarterfinals by Wyoming Rogers in a game they had won.

So when the post season began in Niles, the Lady Vikings were looking forward to winding up in Battle Creek for the state finals.

On Saturday, behind the hitting of senior first baseman Demi Schrader and the pitching of Miss Softball Jenna Ignowski, Niles got the job done.

Niles defeated Livonia Ladywood for the Division 2 state championship 4-0 at the Flannery Softball Complex at Bailey Park.

The state title is the first for the softball program and the first since the 1964 golf team won the Class A championship.

Ignowski didn’t learn until after the Lady Vikings had claimed the title that she was named the state’s top player.

It didn’t surprise second-year Niles coach Gary Collins.

“I’ve been telling everybody who will listen she’s the best,” he said. “She showed it again today. She’s given up one earned run the entire tournament. No one can say we didn’t deserve it, because we had to beat No. 1 (Lakeshore), No. 2 (Wayland) and No. 5 Hudsonville Unity Christian) and this team, I don’t know how in the heck they weren’t rated.”

Schrader, who came up big at the district tournament two weeks ago, had another big day for Niles in the season finale.

In the fourth inning, Schrader drove in the winning run with a double to left-center field to drive in Heather Daniels, who singled and stole second.

That combination of Schrader and Daniels helped get the Lady Vikings off to a great start in the tournament and produced what turned out to be the winning run in the state finals.

Ladywood (38-7) came within a whisker of tying the game in the top of the sixth.

Being no-hit by Ignowski through five innings, Livonia finally got a ball out of the infield for a hit.

Courtney LaValley singled to open the inning. Nichole Payne came on to pinch run and tried to score from first with two outs on a double to the right-center field gap by Carli SanMillan.

Payne, however, was cut down at the plate as the relay from Daniels to Ignowski to catcher Maggie Ernsberger was in plenty of time.

That would be the only chance the Blazers had against Niles.

Any thoughts that they might continue that in the seventh were dashed when the Lady Vikings scored three times in the bottom of the sixth to seal the victory.

Schrader scored on one of two Ladywood errors and Charissa Spear delivered a two-run single to complete the scoring.

Then it was all up to Ignowski and company.

A pop up to shortstop Brittney Buti and a foul pop to third baseman Erica Gordon set the stage for Ignowski to strike out one more high school hitter before she heads off to play for Eastern Michigan University.

She delivered, just as she has done 1,624 times in her career and the celebration was on.

For the game, Ignowski struck out 14 to finish with 498 this season in 256 innings of work. That ties her for eighth best in the state for a single season, while her career total is fourth best all-time in the state of Michigan.

In the two days in Battle Creek she struck out 28 batters. Pretty good against some of the state’s best players and for a player, who admitted to being “nauseous” before both games.

“I still get nervous,” she said following the championship presentation. “I think that a good ball player gets nervous. You’re putting everything on the line; you have to be nervous. I just came out and tried not to think about what it teams to win the game until the last inning.”

A day after setting a state record with four home runs against Clio, Niles (35-5) was limited to just six hits and only one extra base hit by Livonia hurler Briana Combs.

Nellie Coquillard and Schrader each had two hits, while Daniels and Spear each singled.

Combs struck out six and walked to batters.

Livonia 000 000 0 – 0 2 3

Niles 000 103 x – 4 6 0

WP – Jenna Ignowski (35-5) and Maggie Ernsberger

LP – Briana Combs and Jordan Searcy

Varsity records: Livonia Ladywood 38-7), Niles 35-5