By Calli Newberry
The two most recent state champions in Division 3 softball met Tuesday evening in this year’s quarterfinal at Saginaw Valley State University.
The game had a championship-like atmosphere: fans flooded the stands as each team warmed up with focus and intensity. The dugouts were noisy, each pitch mattered, and in the end, it all came down to one inning.
It was Richmond versus Millington, and Millington was looking to correct its 2-1 loss in the regional championship to the Blue Devils last spring.
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The Cardinals had won it all back in 2019 with an emphatic 8-0 victory in the State Finals, so when Richmond knocked them out of the regional last year, it would not be forgotten – and it wouldn’t be repeated either.
All it took was a solo home run, a single, and some speedy base running for the Cardinals to record two runs in the bottom of the fourth. Those would be the only two runs scored all game.
“Last year we won it all and everything was rosy. This year they’re all upset because we lost, but that’s a good thing because they won’t forget,” Richmond head coach Howard Stuart said. “I think we’re going to get better. We’ll graduate four players, but we’ve got a lot of youth coming.”
With a relatively new roster, the Blue Devils still concluded their season 27-10 after the 2-0 loss in the quarterfinal, and along the way, they earned BWAC, district, and regional titles.
“Today we showed a little bit of [youth]. When you graduate nine [players], you’re going to have some holes, but overall, I thought we did a great job,” Stuart said. “They grew to understand how important it is to be a part of a family.”
Richmond’s youth, however, still managed a rather productive day at the ballpark. Defensively, freshman Katie Shuboy controlled the game from the mound. She recorded 10 strikeouts against 23 batters – six of which were on three straight pitches – and allowed four hits.
“She’s going to be good for a long time. [Our] pitcher, catcher, and left fielder are solid ball players. They’re going to contribute for a long, long time,” Stuart said of the three freshmen.
At the plate, center fielder Lauren Creon demonstrated her senior leadership with the first Blue Devil hit in the top of the fourth. She singled to right field, sparking catcher Ashley Stafford behind her who added another single.
Junior Piper Clark, the team’s shortstop, singled to left field in the top of the sixth, and in the top of the seventh, Shuboy made one last great effort with a powerful shot to center field for a single.
While they struggled to break through at the plate, it was clear the Blue Devils were determined through the very last out. With their rally caps on and fuel from Coach Stuart’s candy bag, their dugout never lost hope with chants like, ‘Win it right here!’ and ‘Keep it going!’ echoing inside.
And they’ll look to carry that hope and determination into next season, about which Stuart said he’s feeling confident.
“We’re going to be better next year,” he said. “I said [to the team], ‘I’m really proud of you. You became a team, you worked hard together, you grew together, you enjoyed our successes, you suffered through our losses, and you became a team.’”