Utica Eisenhower senior pitcher Kiersten Korber delivers during a contest earlier this year with Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.

Utica Eisenhower senior pitcher Kiersten Korber delivers during a contest earlier this year with Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Eisenhower softball prepares for district defense

By: Timothy Pontzer | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 14, 2018

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Last season, the Utica Eisenhower softball team ended an eight-year drought, capturing the club’s first district crown since 2009.

The Eagles fell in a Division 1 regional final, finishing with a 23-14 overall mark. Despite only graduating three players from that roster, this year’s group carries a great deal of youth.

“We only have one junior, so it’s honestly a pretty even balance between experience and new players,” Ike coach Bob Hall said after a May 9 practice. “We have three freshmen and two sophomores who are getting their first experience on varsity. At the other end, we have six seniors. They’re a pretty tight-knit group of awesome kids. They’re a lot of fun to be around and they push each other.”

Of those returning seniors, five have committed to play at the next level. Ike’s No. 1 pitcher, Kiersten Korber, is headed to Oakland University. Shortstop Aspen Starr chose the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Left fielder Marissa Cilluffo did the same with Ohio Northern University. Utility player Katie Bologna will suit up for Ferris State University, and infielder Paige Kolinski is going to Saginaw Valley State University.

“We have a lot of talent and ability out there,” Hall said. “Unfortunately, some of the girls don’t get to play their true position this year. Aspen is a third base, but we don’t have a shortstop so we put her there. Paige is a catcher, but we need her at first when Kiersten is pitching. They’ve had to get comfortable at those positions, and when that happens, we’ll have even more success.”

At press time, Ike held an 8-10 overall record with a 1-5 mark in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division.

“It’s not what you do during the season itself, but how you finish,” Hall said. “An average team can get really hot in the playoffs and go on a run. I’d like to think we’re an above-average team, but right now we’re not playing that way. We have to learn how to bring it every day. If we can peak at the end of the year and finish on a high note, that’s the goal.”

Hall’s seniors echoed that sentiment.

“We want to keep advancing on what we did last year,” Starr said. “A lot of the seniors have played together for a long time and we have a special bond. We know what it takes to win.”

The senior leaders said it is their job to help guide the underclassmen.

“We’re a younger team, so we’re learning how to play together,” Cilluffo said. “But once we’ve started to click, we can show that we’re a great team.”

Korber agreed.

“We have a lot of new girls, but we’re all working hard and we want to have a great postseason,” Korber said. “We are just taking it one game at a time.”

Hall praised Korber and Cilluffo, calling the duo a great one-two punch in the circle.

“Kiersten is the ace and Marissa is a solid No. 2,” Hall said. “Marissa is sort of the yin to Kiersten’s yang. We have some great pitching, and it starts with them.”

Also the Eisenhower hockey coach, Hall is in his fourth year at the helm of the softball program. He lamented the recent poor weather and how it has affected the schedule.

“We have strengths and weaknesses, and it varies from game to game,” Hall said. “That goes back to the consistency we need. Some of it is mental and some is physical.

“It’s tough because we don’t get a break. We cram 38 games in eight weeks, but with the weather this year, that’s really pushed into seven or six. This is a grind where you’re at it every single day. It’s a lot different from travel ball, where you practice one day and then rest.”

As the Eagles look to defend their district title, this year will require only a short trip down Tienken. Rochester Hills Stoney Creek will host a bracket that includes Rochester High, Rochester Adams, Romeo High and Ike. Hall and his team drew the predistrict game with Rochester on May 29.

“It’s a tough task because there’s a lot of good teams in the district,” Hall said. “We’re not a sure win by any means. We have to get through some really good teams, but the MAC Red prepares us for that. We face some elite teams and pitching in the league. We’re starting to really learn and mature, and it’s only a matter of time before it starts coming together.”