EAST LANSING — Bridgman ran into a more experienced opponent in its first-ever trip to the Division 4 state softball semifinals.

No. 2 Unionville-Sebewaing defeated the fourth-ranked Bees 9-2 in a Friday, June 18, semifinal played in Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium. The Patriots went on to defend their 2019 state title in the June 19 state championship game with a 14-1 victory over Rudyard as senior pitcher Brynn Polega struck out a record-setting 19 while yielding just one base hit.

“We’ve been here,” Patriots coach Isaiah Gainforth said after the semifinal victory. “This isn’t new to us, which is an advantage.”

Unionville-Sebewaing (40-3) got off to a great start against Bridgman, scoring four runs in the first and three in the second to build a big lead.

Laci Harris tripled in the first run while Gabrielle Crumm and Jenna Gremel also picked up first-inning RBIs. Harris struck again in the second stanza with a run-scoring double while Crumm contributed an RBI single.

“They’re a great hitting team and defensive team,” Bridgman coach Elaine Starbuck said. “We gave up a lot of passed balls, some errors and didn’t put the ball into play.”

The score remained 7-0 until the top of the 6th. Peyton Oman led off with a walk for Bridgman (39-3) and eventually scored on a throwing error following Natalee McNeil’s ground-ball to third. Hannah Johnson then singled home McNeil to cut the lead to 7-2.

“Our girls never give up,” Starbuck said. “We’re proud for that. They give it all that they have.”

There had already been one big comeback in the Division 4 semifinals earlier in the day, as Rudyard rallied from a 7-1 deficit to No. 1 Holton and won 9-8 in nine innings.

Unionville-Sebewaing wasn’t about to let that happen, adding two more runs in the bottom of the sixth as Crumm knocked them both in with a base hit.

“It’s kind of a teaching moment,” Gainforth said. “Hey, Holton’s up 7-1. It’s never enough. You’ve got to keep expanding your lead. That’s what we try to do, win every inning.”

Harris led the Patriots’ offense with a triple and three doubles. Crumm had three singles and four RBIs.

Polega allowed four hits and three walks while striking out 10.

Bridgman’s other hits were a first-inning single by shortstop Kaylee Shuler (who would later leave the game following a collision at second base); Bella Gearhart’s fifth-inning lead-off double to left field; and Bri Russell’s infield single in the seventh inning. Arie Hackett led off the Bridgman half of the fourth inning with a shot to deep left field that was snagged in highlight-reel style by Gremel.

“We’re in any game she pitches,” Gainforth said of his senior hurler. “We’ve said that since she was a sophomore. Any game she’s in the circle, we’ve got a chance.”

McNeil, Bridgman’s lone senior, has had a similar impact for the Bees and has been their top pitcher since she was a freshman. She struck out nine in her final game.

“Natalee’s been a great leader for the team on and off the field,” Starbuck said.

Though McNeil will be difficult to replace, Bridgman brings back a strong hitting team and has two other pitchers returning, Johnson and Gearhart.

“We still have next year,” Starbuck said. “We’ll keep pushing these guys to try to make it here again next year.”

David Johnson contributed to this report.

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