Dakota senior Jayme Lawitzke runs down the base path April 26 against Romeo High. Lawitzke is one of five seniors on the roster, each of whom have played in two Division 1 state title games.

Dakota senior Jayme Lawitzke runs down the base path April 26 against Romeo High. Lawitzke is one of five seniors on the roster, each of whom have played in two Division 1 state title games.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Experienced Dakota softball team aims for title defense

By: Timothy Pontzer | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published May 9, 2018

 Macomb Dakota junior Savana Erb delivers a pitch during an April 26 contest at Romeo High. The Cougars won the affair 11-4. At press time, Dakota was 10-3 overall with a 4-0 mark in the MAC Red.

Macomb Dakota junior Savana Erb delivers a pitch during an April 26 contest at Romeo High. The Cougars won the affair 11-4. At press time, Dakota was 10-3 overall with a 4-0 mark in the MAC Red.

Photo by Donna Agusti

MACOMB — Last year proved to be the best in the history of Macomb Dakota softball.

The Cougars won the program’s first state championship with a 4-3 victory against Grandville High in extra innings for the Division 1 title.

Overall, Dakota finished 36-2 and 10-0 in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division. 

While most of the roster returns for a chance to repeat, Dakota lost several key contributors and the head coach. In the state final, departing senior Julia Salisbury accounted for all of Dakota’s RBIs in the contest while fellow senior Kattie Popko stole home for a walk-off victory.

Perhaps the most important piece was Kendahl Dunford, a four-year starter in the circle. Now pitching at Florida International University, Dunford tossed a complete game, striking out 11 to cap off a career that saw her rewrite many school records.

While those were the only three starters to graduate, coach Rick Fontaine retired and moved out of state after helming the team for 13 seasons. 

Taking his place is David Prestininzi, who coached at Dakota’s JV level for several seasons following a tenure of over three decades at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.

“It’s definitely a little different around here, but we still return a lot of talent,” Prestininzi said. “It helps that I’ve pretty much coached all of them before except for one or two who were on varsity from the start.”

Prestininzi said his group is confident that another run is possible. A return to the final would mark a third straight trip to the state title game.

“We haven’t really sat down and put out specific goals like to win the state championship again,” Prestininzi explained. “I’m sure a lot of the girls want to do that. With many of them having made the final game two years in a row, they already have that expectation of trying to go back to Lansing.” 

Prestininzi said with that mindset comes the best effort from each opponent.

“We know we have a big target on our back,” Prestininzi continued. “When you’ve been that successful, everyone wants to knock you off the top. That can be the highlight for many teams’ seasons, so we have to be on top of our game each time out. And no one is feeling sorry for us because Dunford isn’t around anymore.”

The longtime coach acknowledged it is tough to replace the pitching prowess of Dunford. In her place, a pair of juniors are leading the staff in Danielle McBride and Savana Erb.

“They’re both very competitive, and they’re playing well. We’re comfortable with either one of them right now,” Prestininzi said about the pitching duo. “Whenever you graduate a player like Dunford, it makes a difference. Right now we’re scoring runs, which is a good thing because we’re giving up quite a few sometimes. Our pitchers can grow up a little bit while we’re hitting well and play some pretty good defense behind them.”

At the plate, Prestininzi believes the Cougars can be lethal.

“Our biggest strength is definitely our ability to put up runs,” he said. “We’re pretty strong all the way through the lineup. It’s a rarity to have that past your fifth or sixth hitter, but we really have no drop off all the way down.”

Prestininzi pointed to senior outfielder Olivia Patton and senior shortstop Corbin Hison as the group’s top threats with a bat.

“They’re our one-two punch. Olivia hits leadoff while Corbin is No. 3,” Prestininzi said. “Olivia hit .488 for us last year and is over .500 this year. Corbin is the best shortstop I’ve ever come across in my entire career. I know every coach says stuff like that, but she’s a four-year starter at shortstop and while she may not hit for power, she always comes through. Last year, she had 146 plate appearances and only struck out twice.”

At press time, Dakota was 10-3 overall with a 4-0 mark in the Red. Prestininzi said maintaining the reign is made easier with a strong senior class.

“We have such a good group of leaders,” Prestininzi said of his five seniors. “They’ve obviously played quite a bit, and all five have been on the two teams that made it to the finals. There’s not a lot to say to them before playing a big game, because they’ve already been in a lot of them. That’s what is really good about us, having that experience.”