By DOUG DONNELLY
CONCORD – Unity Nelson didn’t need any time off Saturday.
The Whiteford freshman normally only pitches one game of a doubleheader but Bobcat softball coach Matt VanBrandt let her stay in the circle for all 10 innings Saturday as Whiteford defeated Morenci 5-1 and Jackson Vandercook Lake 20-0 to win the Division 4 Regional championship.
“That hasn’t happened all season,” VanBrandt said. “We thought we’d let her go in the second game until she ran out of gas, but the game only went three innings. She can pitch both games of a double header if we need her too. It’s just a unique situation that we haven’t needed her to.”
Nelson was tremendous for the Bobcats. She went seven innings in the opener, giving up four hits and two runs while striking out 17 Morenci batters. In the finals, she allowed just a second inning single while recording seven of Vandercook Lake’s nine outs by strikeout.
“She works very hard in the off-season and it shows,” VanBrandt said.
Whiteford improved to 32-4 on the season and will play Tuesday at Bailey Park in Battle Creek against Bridgman. With a win, the Bobcats will play at Michigan State University on Friday.
“These girls are a lot of fun to coach and put in a ton of work,” VanBrandt said. “It’s nice to see them rewarded for that.”
The Bobcats faced a stiff test in the first game Saturday, beating the Bulldogs and University of Toledo recruit Ellie Price, a left who set a single season Morenci strikeout record with 329 this year. Price did strikeout 10 Bobcats Saturday, but Whiteford managed to manufacture enough runs off her to keep the Bulldogs pressing all game.
Aly VanBrandt started the game like she often does, with a single, and came around to score on a hit by Ambrelle Billau to get Whiteford started. The Bobcats were up 3-0 after a baserunning play that allowed VanBrandt to score from third while Morenci caught Mackenzie Ulery in a rundown between first and second base.
Morenci pulled within 3-1 on back-to-back hits but Nelson struck out two Bulldogs with runners on second and third to end the threat.
“They are a tough team,” VanBrandt said of Morenci. “They have a very good left-handed pitcher in Price and catcher (Bekah Shoemaker). They put pressure on us in a lot of innings.”
Nelson recorded the final out with a runner on base by strikeout.
Vandercook Lake went eight innings in its regional semifinal win over Dansville, winning 7-6. They had to turn right around and take on the Bobcats.
“I think them having to play back-to-back helped us,” VanBrandt said. “Their pitcher went eight innings, then had to come right back against us. We were on time with our hitting right from the start of the game.”
In the finals, VanBrandt, Nelson, Berlynn Keller and Billau all had three hits while Patrina Marsh had two. Nelson had five RBIs, Billau four and Ava Hillard and Karlei Conard two each.
Whiteford’s baserunners were much more aggressive in the championship tilt than against Price and Morenci.
“We had to be a little bit more cautious against Price,” VanBrandt said, “but we like to be aggressive and put pressure on the defense, to make them make a perfect throw to get us. We got thrown out a couple of times, but that’s okay.”
It was the 14th regional title in school history, but first since 2018. The school record for wins in a season is 33, set by the 2017 Bobcats.