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Two of the biggest contributors to the long softball state tournament runs by Hartland and Howell this spring were players who weren’t on the radar of anyone outside of those programs going into the season.
Rest assured, they will be for the next three years.
Among the five first-team all-staters from Livingston County are freshman pitcher Rachel Everett of Hartland and freshman first baseman Avrey Wolverton of Howell.
Hartland, the Division 1 state runner-up, also put senior second baseman Bri Robeson and senior third baseman Madelin Skene on the first team. Howell, which lost to Hartland in the state semifinals, had two other first-team picks in senior outfielder Sydney Pezzoni and junior utility player AJ Militello.
Everett and Wolverton played with the poise of veterans during the most pressure-packed moments of the state tournament.
After sharing time in the circle for much of the season, Everett pitched every inning of all seven postseason games for Hartland. She displayed an ability to bounce back strong after an off inning, allowing the Eagles to stay in games and stage four straight comeback victories before they lost in the state final to Caledonia, 6-4.
The most amazing statistic to come out of the 2018 high school softball season in Livingston County was the fact Everett walked just five batters in 165 innings while striking out 167. Some pitchers routinely walk five batters in just one game.
“She’s very disciplined,” Hartland coach Bob Greene said. “She had five walks all season. She doesn’t like to walk batters; she likes to come after them. It’s a different dynamic when you have a pitcher like that. Rachel’s really taken us to the next level.”
Wolverton gave Howell two walk-off victories during the postseason. Her sacrifice fly in the 10th inning gave Howell a 2-1 victory over perennial power Mattawan in the regional semifinals. Her solo homer in the top of the seventh gave the Highlanders a 3-2 victory over Plymouth in the state quarterfinals.
Wolverton, who also pitched for Howell, hit .446 with seven home runs and 59 RBI.
“I knew a little bit about her, but I didn’t know much,” Howell coach Ron Pezzoni said. “I knew she was a solid player. That kid’s just a pure hitter. I didn’t love some of her mechanics I saw in the offseason, but she just gets the barrel to the ball on a consistent basis on all pitching. I thought she might struggle a bit with better pitching, but with her swing she didn’t, so I just let her go.”
The emergence of Everett allowed Skene to move to third base after pitching for three seasons for the Eagles.
Skene was one of the top power hitters in the state, hitting 14 home runs and driving in 69 runs. Her final career home run was a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth inning that gave Hartland a 4-2 victory over South Lyon in the regional championship game.
Skene hit .481 and had a 1.000 slugging percentage, adding 19 doubles and four triples to her total of extra-base hits. She will play at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
“She had an incredible year,” Greene said. “Looking back on the season, it’s hard to imagine having a player that has had such an impact on the team has Madelin has. Not only on the field, but her leadership off the field was through the roof. We relied on her for a lot of things. The players relied on her for a lot of leadership. She came through with flying colors.”
Robeson moved from shortstop to second base as a senior, while her freshman sister, Delaney, took over her old position.
She got Hartland’s offense going from the leadoff position, hitting .426 and scoring 49 runs. Robeson signed with Hillsdale College.
“We moved her to second base this year, which is her more natural position,” Greene said. “You could tell immediately how much more comfortable Bri was at fielding her position and not worrying about making mistakes. She had a better season, because I believe she was more comfortable on defense.”
Pezzoni played four years in the outfield for Howell without committing an error. She received honorable mention all-state last season.
The Eastern Kentucky University recruit led Howell with a .471 batting average, driving in 30 runs and scoring 38. She had 11 doubles and two homers. Perhaps her biggest play of the season was throwing out a runner at the plate to complete a double play in the state quarterfinals.
“She always showed up in big situations,” Ron Pezzoni said. “She was just a clutch player, offensively or defensively. She got a big hit in the quarterfinals to start the thing off, then had the defensive play.”
Militello made all-state in the utility slot after playing first base, outfield and catcher. She settled into the outfield by the end of the season. She received honorable mention all-state last season.
Militello hit .402 with 45 RBI and team-high totals of eight homers, eight triples and 47 runs.
“She’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve seen in high school,” Ron Pezzoni said. “She works her butt off and made herself into a way better athlete, a way better softball player. She’s a kid who you just see what hard work can do if you really want to be great.”
Receiving honorable mention were Hartland senior first baseman Delanie Grundman, Hartland junior outfielder Sam Nagel and Howell sophomore pitcher Molly Carney.