by Calli Townsend
After beating Algonac on July 2 to win the District Championship, the St. Clair 12U softball team began its journey to repeat as State Champions. The Saints finished with a 5-1 record in the State tournament, losing the final game to Grosse Pointe, 6-2, on July 14.
“They won State as a 10U and Covid kind of put a little damper on things as some of the girls went to different areas, playing on different teams,” head coach Ron Cook said. “But for this year, we got all the girls back but one, and we picked up one girl who didn’t get the opportunity to go the year before, so it worked out well.”
Shortstop Sofia Russell said she was glad to be back with her team after having a year off of Little League.
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“It was definitely disappointing to not be able to defend our title and win the championship,” she said, “but it was definitely good to be back with everyone.”
The Saints began their State championship campaign on Saturday, July 10 in Taylor, Michigan. They played the host, Taylor North Little League, first, with a narrow 4-3 victory. St. Clair bounced back on Sunday to defeat Northern Little League 16-2 in four innings. To round out pool play, St. Clair beat Vicksburg Little League 15-0 on Monday.
Starting in the championship bracket play, the Saints beat Clare Little League 8-2 on Tuesday. And in the semifinal game, St. Clair edged out Hudsonville Little League, 2-1, thanks to the bat of Julia Racilio, who hit a much-needed double and triple in the game.
The Saints started off hot in Wednesday’s State championship, taking an early 2-0 lead in the first inning. After that, however, they struggled to regain momentum at the plate and gave up six runs in the field
“We were up, then we were down, we were up, and then down, and we just didn’t get back up again,” Cook said. “It was nothing anybody did completely wrong or anything, it was just that we hit the ball and they caught it, and when they hit the ball we missed a couple.”
Despite falling in the final game of the tournament, Cook said he’s still proud of the team and the season they had together.
“The girls came together as a team, we just had one bad game and it happened to be the championship game,” he said. “I have zero complaints. These girls played their tails off in the tournament all the way through.”
Gracie Pickelhaupt led the Saints on the mound throughout a majority of the tournament, pitching every inning except for one.
“We were able to use Grace all the way through,” Cook said. “I started Grace pitching when she was eight years old, I believe, and she was my number one pitcher through States as a 10U, she threw fantastic there. She threw a perfect game in the semifinal and a one-hitter in the championship game as a 10U. To do what she did in this tournament just goes to show you that she’s going to be, and is, a great pitcher.”
Pickelhaupt managed to throw 42 strikeouts in 30 innings and only walk 17 batters.
At the plate, leadoff hitter Julia Racilio totaled eight hits throughout the tournament to lead the St. Clair lineup. Sofia Russell also added six, including a home run in game three against Vicksburg.
“That was super exciting. It was my first time and it was dead center,” Russell said. “It’s everyone’s main goal to hit a home run. For everyone, it’s in the back of their head. And when I was up at the plate I didn’t try to hit a home run. I think if I would’ve tried I would’ve just hit a pop fly and got out. It was just super exciting because I had been wanting to hit one out for so long, and for it to be during states was really awesome.”
It takes a lot of work to reach moments like that, whether it’s a home run or a player’s first hit, and Cook said his team put in the work over the last year to get there.
“We’re having fun with it. The kids put their time in. Nobody gives you anything,” he said. “I love coaching the kids, I don’t know when I’m going to stop coaching. I have no plans to stop in the near future, but I’ll keep coaching as long as I can.”
Cook said it’s a testament to the St. Clair community and all involved in the Little League program and beyond.
“These kids are just great athletes, great people,” he said. “I’m very proud of the team, the town, and they’ll be a lot of fun to watch in the future. It takes a town to create a program that we’ve got in St. Clair and I’m very proud of that fact.”