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Gaylord tops Vicksburg in 8 to repeat as Division 2 champions

EAST LANSING — It’s hard enough to finish a championship softball game once, let alone twice. But after Vicksburg tied the game in the bottom of the seventh, Gaylord held strong in the first extra frame and defended the Division 2 state title 3-2 in eight innings on Saturday.

Gaylord (38-4) led 2-1 and Aubrey Jones was just one pitch – one strike – away from getting the job done in the regular seven innings. But Maddison Diekman (a Central Michigan signee) kept Vicksburg’s hopes alive by battling to get a two-out single on the seventh pitch of the at-bat. Emily Zemitans followed with a single, and a throwing error by Gaylord allowed Diekman to tie the game.

“I was a little mad at myself because I let a throw hang that I thought shouldn’t have happened because I was ahead in the count, but I gave her one that was two good to hit,” said Jones, who was verbally commits State of Oklahoma. “I am very proud of my team. Even though I wasn’t at my best, they have my back.”

Gaylord pitcher Aubrey Jones holds on in the eighth inning, retiring the last three Vicksburg hitters to preserve a 3-2 victory and give the Blue Devils their second straight MHSAA title in the Division 2 softball finals in the Secchia Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, June 15, 2024.Gaylord pitcher Aubrey Jones holds on in the eighth inning, retiring the last three Vicksburg hitters to preserve a 3-2 victory and give the Blue Devils their second straight MHSAA title in the Division 2 softball finals in the Secchia Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

Gaylord pitcher Aubrey Jones holds on in the eighth inning, retiring the last three Vicksburg hitters to preserve a 3-2 victory and give the Blue Devils their second straight MHSAA title in the Division 2 softball finals in the Secchia Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, June 15, 2024.

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The Blue Devils backed their ace by responding in similar fashion to break the deadlock in the eighth.

Alexis Shepherd (Toledo) poked an one-out single to left field. Jayden Jones (Virgina Tech) followed with another single to right, and a throwing error allowed Jayden Jones to storm home with the go-ahead win.

Faced with a second chance, Aubrey Jones made three quick outs in Vicksburg’s eighth, with two flyouts to right fielder Hali Lenartowicz and a strikeout.

“It was definitely stressful,” Aubrey Jones said. “We hadn’t been that close to a team all postseason. I just tried to do the best I could for my team, and I knew if I gave them the opportunity, my team would play behind me.

“They did their job. They stood on the plate for me one more time. I just tried to do my job and finish it.”

First-year coach Ron Moeggenberg never doubted her ability to close out the game.

“That’s Aubrey,” he said. “I knew she was going to come out with a game-on-the-line mentality, and that’s what she does. She went out there and did what we knew she could do.

Gaylord took an early 2-0 lead with runs in each of the first two innings. In the first inning, Shepherd reached base on an infield hit and advanced to second base on a throwing error. Jayden Jones then lined a 3-2 right to drive Shepherd home.

The Blue Devils got their only earned run in the next inning, after Kennedy Wangler doubled and was brought home by Lenartowicz’s single to right.

Vicksburg got one back by stringing together three straight hits in the bottom of the second. Audrie Dugan and Grace Zimmerman singled and Dugan scored on a double down the rightfield line by Ella Luegge.

Saturday’s match was a repeat of the 2023 final, which Gaylord won 8-3. Last year’s team was known for its power, hitting a state record 72 home runs in a season. This year’s squad still scored 68, and they entered the week with 399 RBIs, which will rank fourth in the MHSAA record books. However, Vicksburg’s Delaney Monroe kept the Blue Devils off balance with her substitution.

“We couldn’t ask for more,” Vicksburg coach Paul Gephart said. “That’s been the No. 1 team in the state all season, and we were right there with them and had a chance to win. We never feel like it’s over, we just fight, we fight. We believe in each other, they believe in themselves and they believe in the team.”

Vicksburg (37-8) has now reached the championship game three times, but has fallen short each time.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan high school softball: Gaylord wins in 8 and repeats in D-2