Gielczyk: Frankfort Rolls Into Postseason

Frankfort’s softball team is on a mission this spring. The Panthers are driven, that’s for sure.

They have reason to be. After winning their third straight district championship last year, the Panthers lost a one-run game to Holton in the MHSAA regional semifinals after taking a one-run lead into the seventh inning.

In the preliminaries this season, the Panthers swept the Northwest Conference with a 12-0 record and dusted off Bear Lake with a tidy 15-0 victory in a district quarterfinal game Tuesday afternoon.

But there’s still work to be done, and the Panthers have that clearly in mind as they prepare to defend their district title in Lake Leelanau on Saturday. Unless they can successfully negotiate the field, all of what came before would be for naught.

No one need remind the Panthers of how close they came to reaching the Final Four a year ago.

Frankfort returned all of its starters from last year, and they came in with the sting of that regional loss still lingering. It was in their back of their mind as they started the season, and has been the driving force behind their performance all season.

It made them hungry.

Even when they were frolicking during their Florida trip, the memory of it was never far from their thoughts.

It became even more pronounced when practice started this spring, and the fire began to build when they finally started playing games after an extended winter cost them several early contests to postponements.

The Panthers have reached many of the goals they set for themselves before the season, including a sense of unity among the players that can hopefully carry them beyond the regional this year.

Recently the team was honored by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association for their 3.385 team GPA, 34th best in the nation.

During the season the Panthers also delivered head coach Mike Thompson his 400th career win.

But there’s still some goals left to be had.

This is a team that has grown steadily throughout the season, and is reaching its peak at exactly the right moment.

Frankfort sophomore Haley Myers is hitting .533 on the season with 11 home runs and has scored 65 runs.

Starting catcher Keziah Stockdale is hitting almost .500 and has a 75 percent success rate throwing runners out stealing and allowed only four stolen bases all year.

Olivia Tomaszewski, who signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Cornerstone next year, has been the No. 1 pitcher and has a 15-4 record, allowing just two earned runs in 30 innings. She has not lost a conference game in three years and has gone 29-2 in four years in the league.

Thomaszewski is a two-time all-state selection, while Myers was named all-state last year as a freshman.

Lead-off hitter Natalie Bigley is hitting just over .400 and has scored over 50 runs. She was a first team all-state players last year as a third baseman.

Also hitting over .400 for the Panthers is Bre Dawe who plays second base.

“She has stepped up big time from where she was last year,” Thompson says about Dawe. “She’s hitting 100 points better than she did last year (as a sophomore). She’s scored 35 runs and really done a nice job.”

With their good pitching, the Panthers haven’t put their defense in the position of having to make many tough plays.

But when the occasions have arisen, the Panthers have answered the bell. The defense has been very solid.

The Panthers (27-7) don’t give their opponents anything cheap. What they get, they have to earn. Last year they were 32-6, and finished with just under 30 wins in the previous two years — going 30-8 in 2015 and 29-7 in 2016 for a 118-28 record over the last four years.

During that stretch the Panthers have won three of the last four conference titles.

“I would like to think that we have the advantage because of the team’s we’ve played,” said Thompson. “We played both the Traverse City high school teams. We’ve played Kalkaska, which is a strong Division 2 team.

“We have played top teams in Division 4. We played River Valley and beat them. We lost 3-0 to Kalamazoo Christian, which is ranked No. 3 in Division 4. We beat Benzie twice. They’re honorable mention in Division 3.

“So I would like to think we’ve been tested when it comes to really strong competition. I would like to think that gives us an advantage against teams that haven’t played as strong a schedule.”

Frankfort is counting on playing for a state title this year.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas. 

Categories: Softball