Freshman’s homer wins softball quarterfinal for Howell, 3-2; Hartland next in Thursday semifinal

CHELSEA — Avrey Wolverton’s approach to hitting is much the same as her approach to conversation.

Get into the zone. No wasted words or motions. Connect.

The Howell freshman proved the efficiency of the hitting part of that equation in the seventh inning on Tuesday, when she belted the game-winning homer to left-center field, lifting the Howell softball team to a 3-2 victory over Plymouth in a Division 1 quarterfinal at Chelsea High School.

Until then, Plymouth pitcher Jenny Bressler had shut down the Highlanders after a shaky first inning, retiring 16 Howell hitters in a row.

Then, a riseball missed its spot.

“I kind of expected it,” Wolverton said. “It felt really good as soon as I hit it. Kind of knew it was gone.”

Sydney Pezzoni, who made a key defensive play in the third inning, didn’t use the words “kind of” when asked about the homer.

“I knew right off the bat that thing was gone,” she said. “It was crazy. You can tell when she hits it like that. You can tell it’s going to go out. She’s a crazy good hitter.”

As a result, the Highlanders will take on Hartland in a Division 1 semifinal at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Michigan State University.

It’s the first semifinal in 10 years for the Highlanders and the first for Hartland since it won the Class A state title in 1996.

The Eagles won their quarterfinal in dramatic fashion, scoring three times in the bottom of the seventh to beat Clarkston 3-2. Delanie Grundman had the game-winning hit with the bases loaded and one out.

The teams met in April, with Hartland sweeping a doubleheader.

“I think losing to them has given us more of a drive to beat them this time around,” Pezzoni said. “We’ve always been very competitive with Hartland. Some say Brighton is our biggest rival, but I say Hartland probably is. It’s going to be a great game, and we’re going to fight like crazy to win.”

Bressler was wild in the first, allowing a single to leadoff hitter Maddy Heilner, who scored from first on Pezzoni’s double. Pezzoni scored on a two-out single by Maddie Springer, and that was that for the HIghlanders for the next five 1/3 innings.

Bressler was dominant after that. The only baserunner she allowed after the first was Wolverton’s homer.

Meanwhile, Howell starter Molly Carney struggled, walking four in the early going and loading the bases with no one out in the third.

With one out, Plymouth’s Angela Schmidt lifted a fly ball to Pezzoni in center.

“In those  situations, I want the ball so bad, and it actually came to me for once,” Pezzoni said. “I was prepared. I picture this in my head all the time, so I was really prepared for that.”

Pezzoni caught the ball, then threw out Plymouth’s Kiersten Metz at the plate for a double play to end the inning.

Plymouth tied the game on Schmidt’s two-run single in the fifth.

Both pitchers had 10 strikeouts, but it was a relatively young Howell team led by sophomores and freshmen that will try to reach the Division 1 final for the first time since Brighton did it in 2003 on Thursday.

It’s anything but old hat for Pezzoni, a senior.

“The past three years I was on this team I thought we would make it through regionals every time, and we finally did it,” Pezzoni said. “It’s been 10 years since we got this far. It’s crazy.”

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