CLARE, MI – As the gateway to the North, Clare – population 3,127 – is easy to spot on the map of Michigan.
But he was rarely found on the softball map until now.
With a stunning run at the Major Little League Softball State Championship, little Clare has become Michigan’s biggest deal.
Now the 12-year-old all-star team represents Mitten State at the Little League Central Regional, where they face other state champions from Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, ‘Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky and Wisconsin for a trip to the Little League World Series.
“It’s not like high school, where tournaments are divided by class size,” Clare coach Jared Renner said. “It’s you against the rest of the (field).
“Here we are, small town of Clare. And we shocked the world.
Central Little League major softball softball regional support
Clare opens the modified double-elimination regional against Daniel Boone Little League of Columbia, Missouri at 4 p.m. Monday. The tournament takes place through Friday in Whitestown, Indiana, and all games are scheduled for live streaming on ESPN-Plus.
Clare’s squad settled into the gleaming new Little League Central Regional complex on Sunday, where they received a bit of star treatment in preparation for the big week ahead. As the opening ceremonies were canceled due to weather, players got a glimpse of the pageantry that comes with a regional berth.
“The girls all got their goody bags and they saw the resort – and it’s amazing,” Renner said. “They’ve never played on anything like this.
“They’re pretty proud to represent the whole state now. They continue to be called Michigan instead of just Clare now. It’s pretty cool.”
Clare’s team took the spoils of victory with a superb run at the Michigan State Championship. It was the first softball state title for Clare Little League and the first of any kind since the Major Boys won the baseball crown in 1997.
The team of Pam Allen, Addisyn Ames, Ellie Blystone, Sophia Buzzelli, Maddison Fritz, Cara Heintz, Hadley Louch, Justine Ogg, Lena Renner, Ivy Russell and Bri Smith worked magic to bring home the trophy.
After leading traditional powerhouse Hudsonville 6-4 in the first pool round, Clare was stung by a rally in round six and suffered a 7-6 loss. But he showed his mettle as he responded to championship fashion, beating West Portage and Rochester Hills to end the pool game 2-1 and earn a place in the knockout bracket.
“It was a bad way to lose. But it was in that game that they realized they had the potential to win this thing,” said Renner, who coaches with Clint Russell. If they could be ahead of Hudsonville until the last two outs, they knew they could do it. And they played very well after that.
Clare beat Gladstone 4-0 in the quarter-finals, St. Clair 14-9 in the semi-finals and hosts Grosse Pointe 7-4 in the league to clinch the historic award.
“It all came down to us in the final,” Renner said. “We were playing against Grosse Pointe – the defending champions – and playing for them. And we were dealing with the weather, and I felt like every time we took the field it rained and every time they did it stopped.
When the team retreated to their hometown – located on the US-127 corridor at the gates of northern Michigan – they were met by a police and ambulance escort.
“There were a few hundred people on the streets in downtown Clare cheering us on,” Renner said. “Most girls will tell you, that’s when it became real for them.”
Clare is a little league of just three major softball teams, with a total of 33 players. Thus, the all-star team is made up of one-third of the league. But players don’t see their height as a disadvantage.
All pupils of Clare Middle School, they have played together – going against each other – since they were around 7 years old.
“Every girl has courage,” Renner said. “They’re a fun team to watch. They take that small-town attitude and they keep it all the way.
“When we finished the state tournament, the district administrator said he had never seen a state champion where all the girls were from the same school. It’s pretty impressive.
Now the Clare stars hope to continue their momentum and take their community with them.
“The community support has been amazing,” Renner said. “Companies have contacted us because they are so proud of everything we have done. The community has supported us and it’s just amazing.
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