Grosse Pointe South coach Bill Fleming has a conversation with his team during its game against Port Huron on April 20 at South High School.

Grosse Pointe South coach Bill Fleming has a conversation with his team during its game against Port Huron on April 20 at South High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Grosse Pointe South softball’s ‘fresh start’ has team eyeing MAC-Blue title

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 25, 2023

 South sophomore Luna Agosta blasts a shot into the outfield.

South sophomore Luna Agosta blasts a shot into the outfield.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Everything was new for Grosse Pointe South softball.

Graduating a majority of the squad entering this season and building a brand-new softball field, the rapid change could be a scary transition for some, but not this squad.

Junior Avery Bellish, who went through a transition of her own this season moving from outfield to shortstop, hitting cleanup and even being named team captain, said the change was just what the team needed.

“I feel like, for the start of the season, I felt like it was a fresh start,” Bellish said.

That fresh start offered a chance for a new, younger team to come together.

“It could be better for us this season as a team to get along better and stay connected, and so far we’ve been doing that and I’m very proud of us for that,” Bellish said.

Now 9-3 on the season and first in the Macomb Area Conference-Blue Division, South silenced any talks of a potential rebuild behind a core group of veteran leaders who have carried the mentorship of last season’s squad into this year.

On its new field, South captured the round robin championship on April 15 in a resilient victory over Berkley High School. South earned three straight wins over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, Grosse Ile and Berkley during the Saturday tournament, outscoring its opponents 36-8.

While handling Cranbrook Kingswood and Grosse Ile, South found itself down 6-0 late in the championship game against Berkley. It was the test the young squad didn’t know it needed, but after coming back and winning 7-6 to take the round robin title, the players are fully aware of their potential now.

“I thought it was a big boost, especially the last game, which turned out to be the championship game,” South coach Bill Fleming said. “Both teams were undefeated at the time, and we were behind 6-0, and I just noticed a real quiet confidence on the team. Nobody was panicking or worried at all, and they came back and we ended up winning the game on a walk-off in the seventh, 7-6. It kind of showed me a lot of how they view themselves and the confidence that they have of, ‘We’re going to keep battling until the last pitch, and our opponent better play hard because we’re not going to give up.’”

It was a resilient showing from a young group, but the way South’s bats have been swinging, there’s not a game that the team is ever out of.

Led by team captains Bellish, senior Katherine Steiner and junior Avery Harris, South’s offense has been scoring at an impressive rate this season due to its mix of speed, contact and power.

From top to bottom, South’s offense is set to be one of the strongest in the division. Junior Addison Waller has contributed to the offensive success as well.

“I think everybody is doing what we need them to do,” Fleming said. “We’re not an exceptional power-hitting team, but we have people who hit for power. We got a lot of team speed, so we bunt the ball a lot and let our speed run. We got a nice mix of power, speed and single hitters.”

On the bump, sophomore Murphy Russell returned as the ace of the staff and also one of the more experienced arms in the rotation.

With two freshman arms in Alexandra Lupo and Viviana Ostrowski, Russell is already a veteran leader in her second year, but don’t let the youth fool you with this rotation, especially with Russell at the helm and sophomore Luna Agosta behind the plate.

Fleming said Russell is the perfect ace for his staff this season.

“When we got an important game coming up, she’s the kid who wants the ball, wants to be out there on the mound and has really done an excellent, excellent job,” Fleming said. “She’s just kind of been taking control and pitching really, really well.”

This group has a 7-5 freshman/sophomore to junior/senior ratio and has continued the success of a senior class while graduating two all-conference players in Shannon Dame and Ellie Budziak. So how did they do it?

It starts with South’s culture, which is focused on family and the idea of working together toward a common goal, and that starts from day one with South softball when the underclassmen receive their “mentors,” which is when incoming players are assigned to veterans they can lean on for questions or concerns.

South’s underclassmen group includes sophomores Lucia Gabel, Kate Dixon, Agosta and Russell and freshmen Isabella Dodson, Lupo and Ostrowski.

Harris, a three-year varsity player, said the memory of her freshman season allows her to be a strong mentor for the underclassmen.

“I started freshman year. I was on varsity, and it was a little challenging at first because everybody was older than me,” Harris said. “I knew nobody on the team; I knew a few people, but not many. It was kind of scary, and having a bunch of younger kids come in, I kind of know what they’re feeling. Having them on the team, it’s just really fun. Having them on the team, I feel like it brought out all of us and really showed us that we can work together, and even if they’re younger, we’re all working for the same thing.”

While young and full of confidence after the hot start, there’s a long way to go for South as the team holds a one-game lead over Fraser for first in the MAC-Blue.

South last won the league in 2015 and had a disappointing end to the season last year with a first-round loss in the playoffs, but it’s time for the class of 2024 and 2025 to continue what last year’s seniors started for the program.

“In their junior and senior year, they won 20 and 19 games, respectively, and really kind of helped elevate us … and also kind of raised the expectations of everybody of what we expected,” Fleming said. “We’re very thankful for them, and I think they left a great legacy for the players that remain, and those players have taken up the mantle and carried it on.”