Warren Regina softball players celebrate with their Division 1 state championship trophy. The Saddlelites bested Howell High 3-2 June 15 at Michigan State University. Regina now has seven state championships.

Warren Regina softball players celebrate with their Division 1 state championship trophy. The Saddlelites bested Howell High 3-2 June 15 at Michigan State University. Regina now has seven state championships.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Regina outlasts Howell to win 7th state title

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Warren Weekly | Published June 21, 2019

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WARREN — Warren Regina freshman outfielder Jenna Holt has shown a flair for the dramatic in the team’s 2019 state semifinals and finals appearances.

In a 4-0 June 13 win over Bay City Western in the semifinals, Holt overran second base and couldn’t get back before scoring what would prove to be the winning run.

In the Division 1 state championship game against Howell High two days later, Holt’s speed was once again a major factor.

Pinch running for Saddlelites senior pitcher Marisa Muglia in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 2-2 tie, Holt went from first to third on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore infielder Mia Konyvka.

“I saw there was no one covering third, and I was always told to keep running in that situation,” Holt said.

After Howell coach Ron Pezzoni called to intentionally walk two straight batters to get to freshman infielder Adriana James, James’ infield hit allowed Holt to score to give Regina a 3-2 win and the state championship.

“Running home on that play was probably the fastest I’ve ever run in my life,” Holt said.

James, who struck out in two previous at-bats, said she hoped to make the Highlanders pay.

“All of (Howell junior pitcher Molly Carney’s) pitches were outside. That pitch was low, and I made contact,” James said. “At that point, we had nothing to lose, so I just swung and it paid off.”

Regina coach Diane Laffey, who with the win moves to 7-0 in state title games, called the decision to walk two batters to face James a solid one. Laffey credited James with her toughness at the plate in that spot.

The longtime Saddlelites coach, finishing her 49th season with the program, said the win was a result of the team’s grit. Regina rebounded after falling 1-0 to eventual state champion Caledonia High in the 2018 state semifinals.

“You lose a game like that and you set the goal to get back,” said Laffey, who in state title games is 3-0 in 1-run games. “But it’s hard to get back here two years in a row. You can have the players, but you have a target on your back and it makes it tough.

“This win is about our players’ resilience. They never quit.”

Muglia was the starter in the 2018 state semifinal loss. She got the complete-game win in the triumph over the Highlanders. The senior hurler allowed 2 runs on seven hits and walked two batters. Muglia struck out 11 in the win.

“Losing how we did last year, we made it a goal to get back and experience this,” Muglia said. “It’s unbelievable that we did it.”


Back-and-forth battle
Early in the contest, Carney was experiencing some control issues, walking four of the first nine batters she faced. That proved fatal in the second inning, as Regina junior outfielder Jacqueline Jozefczyk hit a two-out single that went over the outstretched hand of Highlanders second baseman Avrey Wolverton to score junior infielder Kiley Dulapa and James and give the Saddlelites a 2-0 lead.

Carney finished with six walks, five hits and eight strikeouts.

Howell, in its first state title game, looked to start a rally in the top of the fifth. Highlanders senior outfielder A.J. Militello laced a two-out double to the left field wall that allowed junior Maddy Heilner to score from first base and cut the Regina lead to 2-1.

The Highlanders tied the game at 2-2 when sophomore Maddie Springer with no outs in the top of the sixth lined a sacrifice fly to center field to score senior infielder Maddie Gillett from third base.

Jozefczyk’s hitting early in the game kept Regina afloat. Through the first five innings, the Saddlelites had just two hits — both by Jozefczyk.

“(Carney) was pitching outside and I was just able to make good contact,” Jozefczyk said. “This feeling is surreal after how we lost last year. We wanted to get this done.”

“You get into these close games and your calls have to work,” Laffey said. “I’m just really proud of these girls. It’s a great group.”


Looking ahead
Regina loses five players to graduation: outfielders Kaylee Nehra and Madison Mattice, infielder Megan Sikora, and co-captains Leah Munson (second base) and Muglia.

Laffey, who made it clear that she’ll be back next season, said this group is special and has left its mark on the program.

Laffey said she expects Jozefczyk to be the team’s leader moving forward. The Saddlelites coach called Josefczyk a leader and said her teammates respond well to her.

“(Jozefczyk) came up with some big hits for us,” Laffey said. “That girl works hard at everything.”

The Saddlelites have 13 players eligible to return next season, including junior co-captain Sam Rhodes. In all, Regina could have back seven players who started the state final, along with Holt.

“This is the first year some of the girls got to play their natural positions, and it paid off,” said Laffey, who adds another title after winning in 1989, 2004-07 and 2015. “We’ll be OK going forward. We’ve got a hole to fill at second base and some other things we’ll have to figure out, but we’ll be back.”