Mercy softball works a drill during their practice  May 4 at Mercy High School.

Mercy softball works a drill during their practice May 4 at Mercy High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Mercy softball’s close-knit group eyes one goal in 2023

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Farmington Press | Published May 5, 2023


FARMINGTON HILLS — “It’s our time.”

Not only is it represented on the backs of Farmington Hills Mercy softball’s practice shirts as a team motto selected by senior captains Izzy Chaput (CF) and Gage Lambert (SS), but it’s a mindset Mercy has set for each game throughout the season.

Mercy understands that the past two seasons have been successful, but the expectations and standards this group has set are nothing short of a championship.

The core of seniors in Chaput, Lambert, Sabrina Shea (OF) and Olivia McDonnell (C/OF), and juniors Sophia Paluk (P/OF), Asia Barbato (P/1B) and Kat Burras (C), came up together after the COVID season was canceled, and they have since been a part of back-to-back 30-plus-win seasons, but the soon-to-be graduates know there’s more at stake, and the juniors know there’s no better sendoff for the senior class than a state title.

“The expectations are high, so we have to temper our confidence with our expectations,” Mercy coach Corey Burras said. “I think we’re cautiously optimistic. We know we have to get better every day. We know the other teams get better, and we have to keep up. We can’t overlook any opponent.”

With back-to-back losses in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division One State Tournament to Allen Park in the semifinals and quarterfinals, there’s a growing feeling throughout the team that it’s their time to take what’s theirs.

Already 11-0 on the season and continuously shutting out opponents night in and night out, it’s safe to say Mercy has a chip on their shoulder heading into this season.

“Definitely,” Chaput said. “It hurt last year. We were up, and then we kind of blew our own lead, but this year I think we have the expectation that no matter what we’re doing, we’re winning that state title.”

Chaput, a returning first team all-State selection, has continued to be a force at the top of Mercy’s lineup this season, but she’s not the only Chaput making noise this year.

Freshman right fielder Sophia Chaput, the younger sister of Izzy, has been electric both on the field and as a consistent contributor at the plate as well.

For Sophia, she said she’s just happy to play alongside someone she’s idolized her whole life: her big sister.

“I think it’s a privilege because I’ve looked up to her my whole life, and I’m only doing it for one year with her,” Sophia Chaput said. “I think it’s really nice I’m going to be able to play with her.”

The Chaputs aren’t the only sibling duo to propel Mercy to an unbeaten start, for the double play maestros of Gage (senior) and Charlie (sophomore) Lambert continue to shine together.

Both in the top half of the lineup, with Gage batting second and Charlie third, the Lambert sisters have been dominant so far this season, but like Sophia, Charlie said she’s just enjoying the moment alongside her sister.

“It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Charlie Lambert said. “I’ve never gotten to play with her before, and it’s really fun, because I’m second base, and she’s shortstop, so we’re like a middle infield duo. I love her, and I just want to do good for her.”

Having actual sisters in the dugout has definitely helped the team’s chemistry this season, but as Izzy Chaput described the squad, they’re all ‘sisters,’ especially with a culture like Mercy’s.

Long before the 2023 senior class made their names as the mentors of the team, Mercy had a trio of well-established seniors the past two seasons.

The lasting legacy they left behind has not only made an impact on the field for Mercy but continues to fuel the Mercy leaders of today.

“I know Grace (Nieto) and Maggie Murphy were big, especially my sophomore year,” Izzy Chaput said. “They really led us to Michigan State that year. So, losing them was pretty hard, and I think it’s just that culture they set with us, and same with Kendall (Spivey), who’s at Villanova. I think we carry on every day through what they did and what they taught us.”

Mercy’s group has not only continued on their legacy, but has built upon it even more behind their offensive firepower and lockdown pitching staff this season.

The offensive unit can’t be pinpointed to a handful of contributors, for every Mercy player that picks up a bat automatically becomes a threat at the plate.

When Mercy isn’t wearing down their opponents offensively, the 1990s Atlanta Braves trio of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine, or juniors Sophia Paluk and Asia Barbato, and sophomore Kaitlyn Pallozzi in this case, have been lights out on the mound for Mercy this season.

All varsity starters on the mound since their freshman season, the three-woman staff Mercy possesses can go toe-to-toe with any staff in the state.

“It’s a great mix, and it’s a great problem to have,” Burras said. “I wish we could play three games every night so I could get some innings from each of my pitchers, but there’s the coaching that I know what each pitcher brings, I know the strategies, I know how to have pitchers offset each other against the teams we play. That balance that we have is what we’re blessed to have, frankly.”

With all of Mercy’s depth this season — from to its senior and junior group to the talented underclassmen, including Carmella Crane (C/OF), Evelyn Miller (C/OF) and Meg Kowalyk (OF) — the in-practice competition only makes the team better, and it only makes the bond grow stronger.

Paluk said the team’s dynamic this season is a special one to watch.

“I think one thing that makes our team special is I think we all really bond and support each other, but we’re also competing against each other and making each other better,” Paluk said.

Still having half of their season left, Mercy’s journey towards a state title will first make its stop towards the hopes of back-to-back Catholic High School League titles for the squad.

Once that goal is accomplished, all eyes are set on June 17: the MHSAA State Finals.

“Day one; it’s June 17th,” Izzy Chaput said. “We’re going to be back at MSU, and we’re going to be there.”

“Clear your calendars,” Barbato said. “Nothing till after June 17th.”