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May 14, 2014

New coaches and a fantastic freshman have sparked Blue Devils

By Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writer

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Grosse Pointe South junior Andie Anger slides into home for a run during South’s 9-0 victory against Warren Mott on April 30.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — A new coaching staff and a freshman phenom have helped lead a dramatic turnaround in the Grosse Pointe South softball program.

Head coach Bill Fleming and assistant coach Marge Gatliff are in their first year of leading South’s varsity team after stints on the freshman and junior varsity levels. As a way to set the tone for their first season, one of the first things that the coaches did was sit down with each player to set individual and team goals.

“From the very beginning, the girls were completely team-oriented,” Fleming said. “I think setting goals are very helpful, and the girls have worked hard to achieve it. We still have a ways to go. I think at the beginning of the season, when we set our goals at just winning districts, I think we’re starting to realize that we can do more — that we can go further.”

After going 9-16 in 2013, South is off to a 20-6 start with an 8-1 mark in MAC Gold play. The emergence of Emma St. John, a freshman pitcher, has been a key to South’s improvement.

St. John has thrown three no-hitters, one of which was a perfect game while striking out all 18 batters against Center Line on May 3.

“Emma (St. John) is a big part of that (improvement). This game is so geared toward pitching, and now we have two quality pitchers who can pitch at any given time, and we don’t give up anything,” Fleming said. “We have a different look from a team standpoint because people play different positions based on the pitcher, but it gives us a lot more flexibility.”

While discussing the perfect game, St. John said she didn’t realize what she had done until after the final out.

“I didn’t actually know I struck out everyone until the end of the game when everyone was really excited,” St. John said. “All of my pitches were working.”

Senior pitcher Megan Fleming counteracts the youth of St. John with experience, and together they have led South’s improvement.

Elsewhere on the diamond, senior shortstop Christy Tech, who will be playing softball at Gannon University next year, is helping lead the team with junior outfielder Katie Kish, who has verbally committed to play at Hillsdale.

Gatliff explained that Kish’s leadership in helping St. John and others feel comfortable on the varsity team has created a great team chemistry.

“Kish is a very well-rounded player. She can play any position, and we’ve moved her all around. She’s got a lot of tricks at the bat, and she’s a big reason for the chemistry of this team,” Gatliff said. “She helped Emma (St. John) settle in, and she’s very good to all of the other girls. She’s really been an integral part of the chemistry that’s going on with the team.”

Other returning varsity players are juniors Ashley Borowicz (first base), second baseman Cameron Zihlman and catcher and No. 2 hitter Eliza Bourke.

“We’ve got  players at first and second that have never played there before but have worked hard to get better at it. They’re doing a great job,” Fleming said of Borowicz and Zihlman.

South sustained three injuries to starters in the first week of the season, so Fleming said that the ability of players like Borowicz and Zihlman to change positions successfully has been very important.

“We asked players to play positions on the varsity level that they’ve never played before, and they all just did it willingly,” Fleming said. “It’s such an unselfish group that wanted to do what’s best for the team. It didn’t matter that they might make an error here or there — they were learning a new position and it was going to make the team better.”

South was scheduled to host Port Huron on May 12, after press time, to break up a tie between the two schools for first place in the MAC Gold at the start of the last week of league play. South will host Warren Mott on May 16 in its last game of league play.

The Blue Devils will host a district tournament starting the last week of May. Official dates, times and matchups for the tournament were not known yet at press time.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Thomas Franz at tfranz@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1040.