REPRINTED FROM THE SATURDAY, JUNE 1 EDITION OF THE TUSCOLA COUNTY ADVERTISER
As her softball swing can attest, Millington’s Darrien Roberts knows a thing or two about timing.
For the Cardinals’ junior leadoff hitter and right fielder, connecting for her team-leading 16th homer in Thursday’s 5-3 nonleague softball win over visiting Division 1 fifth-ranked Lake Orion to cap the regular season was more of the same perfect timing. One of Millington’s (31-2-1) only losses came to then Division 1 top-ranked Clarkston on a go-ahead grand slam with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, but the Dragons later dealt the Wolves their first defeat with a split of the teams’ doubleheader.
Roberts had broken her senior teammate Sydney Bishop’s previous record of 14 homers, set when she was a freshman in 2016, with a three-homer barrage in a nonleague doubleheader sweep of 23-9 North Branch on Tuesday. After an emotional end to the regular-season for the Millington slugger, she’s happy to put the focus back on the team and nothing else as the Division 3 top-ranked Cardinals prepare to embark on their postseason follow-up to their first state finals appearance in program history last season.
“It’s going to be hard for anyone to compete with us when we’re on. We just have to make sure that’s the case,” said Roberts of anticipating the postseason.
Roberts, who was 2-for-4 as one of the key bats supporting Gabbie Sherman’s winning effort from the pitcher’s circle on Thursday, said she was torn on breaking her close friend and teammate’s home-run record.
“Sydney Bishop’s like the sister I never had,” explained Roberts. “I’m extremely close to her.
“She came up to me after I hit my 13th homer against North Branch and told me I was close to breaking her record,” she added. “I said I didn’t want to break it, but she told me she wanted me to.”
After connecting twice more to leave the yard in the doubleheader with the Broncos, Roberts said she was still emotionally conflicted as she rounded the bases before once again being reminded by Bishop to savor the moment.
“When I reached home plate, she came up to me and gave me a hug. Sydney’s not really a hugger, so for her to do that was huge,” said Roberts. “To know she wanted me to break her record and that she’s one of my biggest supporters means so much to me. She’s been a great role model to look up to.”
Roberts hit 10 homers last year as a sophomore, so her longball-hitting abilities have never been in question.
“I don’t try to hit home runs. I just hit what I can and look to get on base,” she said, adding she prefers to face high-level pitching so she’s not forced to wait on the ball and her swing is more natural. “I’m capable of hitting home runs, especially off of better pitchers like we saw against North Branch and (Lake Orion), but if I don’t get on(-base), there’s always someone waiting to pick me up.”
Having a leadoff hitter leading the way in homers is an unusual advantage the Cardinals will continue to look to exploit, said Bishop.
“She’s hitting all these homers, and we’re ecstatic about it because she’s a great teammate,” said Bishop of Roberts. “She’s a rare athlete whose confidence is probably her greatest asset.
“She trusts her ability level 100 percent,” she added. “It’s been a privilege to play with her, and she’s a great person as well.”
Madi Hahn led Millington in homers last year with 11, while Bishop had eight.
Thursday’s single-game win over Lake Orion doubled as Millington’s senior/parent’s night as the group paid tribute to its seven seniors, five of whom — Sherman, Bishop, Leah Denome, Elizabeth Bees, and McKenna Slough — have played on varsity all four years.
“Going through the season with this group of girls is special. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Bishop.
“Winning a state championship is 100 percent our end goal,” she added. “We’re determined more than anything to get back there, and we won’t take a single play for granted. We have that end goal in mind, but we’re going to have to walk every stair to get there because there are no shortcuts.”
The Cardinals open with Vassar in their Division 3 district they’ll host starting at 9:30 a.m. today, while Caro meets Reese in the late semifinal starting at 11:30 a.m. The winners will then take an approximately 30-minute break before playing the championship game.
Adam Smith is the sports editor for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.