Liggett senior leaders, from left, Amber Baldwin, Courtney Slabaugh, Ashley Tengler and Julia DeRoo, banded together to help the Knights put together one of the best seasons in school history. Photo courtesy of Ted Alpert
August 22, 2013University Liggett's girls' softball program finished a four-year cycle in which it went from two wins to a spot in the Division 4 Final Four in Battle Creek.
Playing a major part in this rise to the top were four freshmen, Amber Baldwin, Courtney Slabaugh, Julia DeRoo and Ashley Tengler. The first three played all four years on the varsity, while Tengler transferred from Warren Regina her sophomore year.
They started as role players and eventually turned into leaders.
The Knights, under head coach Ted Alpert, couldn't get over the hump the first three years, losing in the district playoffs.
This season the hard work and dedication paid off as the Knights cruised to easy district victories and then hosted a regional tournament.
The Knights put together two close wins in the regional, edging Wixon St. Catherine 1-0 in the semifinals and beating Westland Huron Valley 5-0 in the title game.
Due to an injury to freshman pitcher Emily Kanakry, Tengler was given the OK to pitch both games. She was outstanding on the mound and pitched the Knights to the quarterfinals.
In the Elite 8 game, the Knights blasted Concord 11-1 before bowing out in the state semifinals, falling 8-6 to Ubly.
Liggett ended its season 27-5.
Below is the story of each of the four seniors and their journey at Liggett to what awaits them in college.
Amber Baldwin put together one solid senior season and now she heads to college on cloud nine.
"I loved playing softball at Liggett and I had a chance to see this program get better each season I was on the team," the 17-year-old Baldwin said.
Baldwin was a catcher to begin her career at Liggett, but moved to third base her junior year. She earned All-State honors each year, including making the First Team this spring.
"She has the highest softball IQ," said Baldwin's high school softball coach, Ted Alpert. "She has devoted herself individually and team-wise.
"It isn't easy to move positions from catcher to third base, but she never complained, played hard every day and earned All-State honors because of that hard work."
Baldwin was the captain of the infield this season. Most of the time it is the catcher who leads the infield, but the Knights had a freshman behind the plate, Anna Majewski, so Alpert felt more comfortable having one of his senior captains leading the charge.
Baldwin earned the All-State spot by hitting .427 (44-for-103) with 13 doubles, seven home runs (career high), 37 RBIs, 33 runs and 11 walks. She had a .483 on-base percentage, a .757 slugging percentage and 1.240 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage.
"Amber put a lot of time in the weight room this off-season and it paid off," Alpert said. "Those doubles to the fence she hit her junior year turned into home runs this season."
Baldwin officially ended her high school career by playing in the annual All-Star game in Lansing in July. She played with teammates Slabaugh and DeRoo.
She had a scholarship to Regina, but chose to attend high school at Liggett.
"I liked the small, family atmosphere of Liggett and I'm glad I went to school here," Baldwin said. "I feel very prepared for college and life after college.
"It was scary when it was my first day of school my freshman year, but the four years went by very quickly and now I'm a graduate and heading to college."
Her mother, Rowena, and father, Darren, both worked near Liggett, so the drive from their home in Rochester was an hour.
She applied to University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Oakland University, Albion College, Aquinas College and Olivet College.
After taking time to make a decision, she chose to attend Oakland University, which is only 12 minutes from her house.
"I'm going to try to make the softball team as a walk-on and study hard," Baldwin said. "It will be nice living so close to the college."
She is going to major in health sciences and wants to be a physical therapist.
She has spent the past several summers playing travel softball. She played for the St. Clair Shores Sharks before moving to more competitive programs like Macomb Explosion, Batbusters and Vipers.
"I enjoyed high school and made some fantastic friends, and now it's time to move to my next challenge, Oakland University," Baldwin said. "I'm ready."
Besides playing softball, Baldwin is an excellent piano player, works a part-time job and volunteers at Henry Ford Cottage Hospital.
Her fall schedule begins Sept. 3 and her courses at Oakland are health science, honor's college, pre-calculus, writing and biology.
The 18-year-old Clinton Township resident spent her freshman year of high school at Regina.
Her mother is a Regina graduate and some of her cousins are currently enrolled at the Catholic high school.
She thought it would be a good fit, but it didn't take long to realize this just wasn't her cup of tea.
"I wasn't enjoying school and Liggett was on our radar when I was in middle school," Tengler said. "We made some phone calls and I was enrolled as a sophomore at Liggett.
"I loved Liggett and I met some great friends. It was definitely a better fit than Regina. I'm glad I switched schools."
Tengler had mild success on the mound her first two seasons with the Knights, but couldn't get over the hump. She worked hard in the off-season, maintained her pitching work during lessons and with Alpert, throwing a couple of hundred pitches each week.
This season she was the staff ace and put together her best season.
Tengler finished 17-5 with two saves, a fantastic 1.91 ERA and 1.00 whip (walk plus hits divided by innings pitched). She pitched 124.3 innings, giving up only 110 hits, 43 runs (34 earned), 14 walks, one hit by pitch and 72 strikeouts.
She rarely hit when she pitched, but Tenger did get the chance to be the designated hitter and most the most of it, hitting .478 (11-for-23) with four RBIs and six runs scored.
She earned the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference most valuable player honor this season and made the All-Regional Team.
"Ashley did not have an overpowering fastball, but has pin-point control," Alpert said. "With her on the mound, we were in every game. She threw 70 percent strikes and what makes her a great pitcher was her desire and commitment to the game."
Tenger was a leader on the 2013 Knights' softball team. She honed her skills while also playing several years of travel ball.
Tengler fulfilled her athletic requirement at Liggett by playing volleyball and running cross-country. She was the varsity volleyball team manager her senior year instead of playing.
"I wanted to focus on softball, which I did, and I thought it was the right choice," she said. "Now, my softball career is over and it's time to focus on academics in college."
She finished high school with a 3.7 grade point average and is attending Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. It is a small liberal arts college with 2,500 undergraduates.
"Hobart reminds me of Liggett and I love the campus," Tengler said. "I can't wait to get to Hobart and begin school. I'm going to meet a lot of new friends, which is exciting. It's going to be a great time in my life and an important one."
She plans on majoring in English and minor in math with the hopes of earning a living in the publishing business.
During her college selection, Tengler had Wesleyan College, Hillsdale College and Bryn Mawr College before selecting Hobart.
Tengler's orientation is Aug. 23 to 25 and classes begin Aug. 26. She will be on campus Aug. 21.
The 18-year-old Eastpointe resident endured a tenuous four-year career. She played hard, earned a lot of accolades and did it after missing her sophomore year.
DeRoo played well her freshman season, but missed her sophomore season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in her left knee in January playing on the Knights' varsity basketball team.
She hoped therapy and rest would cure the injury, but she eventually had surgery in May. She went through rehabilitation, going through painful sessions of getting her knee back to 100 percent.
During her junior year, she missed half of the basketball season, but was back in the softball lineup and had a great season.
She made All-State at first base, but the team lost in the district round of the state playoffs.
She hurt the same knee again, but didn't miss any time. She didn't play basketball and instead, focused on softball.
"It was my last year of softball and I wanted it to be my best," DeRoo said. "It wasn't my best offensively, but I played well defensively, which I'm proud of."
DeRoo played all 32 games, hitting .406 (41-for-101) with seven doubles, 31 RBIs, 55 runs and nine walks. She had a .459 on-base percentage and a .935 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage.
"Julia was a captain since her junior year and her leadership was monumental to our success," Alpert said. "Her work ethic in the gym is, by far, the best I've seen at the high school level.
"I could tell her knee hurt this season, but she never complained, never missed a game and gave it her best effort for the team's success."
DeRoo earned Division 4 All-State First Team honors this spring and played in the annual high school softball all-star game in Lansing.
Her choice to attend Liggett was an easy one and she worked hart to achieve a 3.3 grade point average.
"I liked the sense of community at Liggett," DeRoo said. "I liked the fact that I got to know my teachers and all of my classmates. We were a good group and I learned a lot about what it takes to succeed by going to Liggett."
She leaves for Michigan State University where she plans on majoring in packaging engineering. Her courses will include physics, chemistry and calculus among many other mathematics classes in her curriculum.
Her first semester will be at Wayne State University, but she will be at MSU in January for her second semester.
"I'm going in blind at MSU," she said. "I will study hard at Wayne State before transferring to Michigan State. I'm a little nervous to start college, but it will not take long to make new friends."
Her younger sister, Rosie, is her best friend. The two spent three years together at Liggett, but never played the same sport.
"She is my best friend and we will miss each other," DeRoo said. "Maybe she can go to MSU next year and we can room together. That would be fun, but she hasn't decided where she wants to go, yet."
Her fond memories of helping the Knights make the Final Four will last forever.
"Mr. Alpert really cares about us and we put together a great season," DeRoo said. "We saved the best for last. I will miss my teammates because we became a pretty close group this season."
DeRoo plans on enjoying the rest of her summer with her family and friends before hitting the books at Wayne State.
The 18-year-old Fraser resident was ready to attend University Liggett in the fall 2009.
"I wanted to go to Liggett and my parents sent me there," Slabaugh said. "I had a great time and it definitely prepared me for college."
Slabaugh was a star on the playing field, as well as in the classroom. She played varsity volleyball and softball for four years.
On the diamond, she had a cannon for an arm and manned shortstop for the Knights her first three seasons before moving to second her senior campaign.
"It was definitely less pressure playing second base than shortstop," she said. "I moved over since having Emma (Nicholas) would have given us a better infield. It made the team better."
Slabaugh fielded her position with precision and earned All-State Honorable Mention at second base in Division 4.
At the plate, Slabaugh hit .420, collecting 37 hits in 88 at-bats, plus she had seven doubles, two triples, 17 RBIs, 37 runs and walked 11 times.
She had a .505 on-base percentage, a .545 slugging percentage and 1.050 on-base-plus-slugging mark.
It was her best all-around season in her four years as a Knight.
"She moved from shortstop to second base after three years at the position and never said a work about it," said Liggett varsity softball head coach Ted Alpert. "With her and (Emma) Nicholas in the middle infield, they must have turned six double plays.
"I knew we had the best infield in the state and Courtney helped us get all four infielders, as well as our catcher, on the All-State Division 4 First Team and Honorable Mention."
Slabaugh was a team player and led the Knights in runs scored her last three seasons. She was a quiet leader and worked hard to be the best she could in order to help the team succeed.
Her brightest moment on the athletic field was winning the softball quarterfinal game this spring against Concord. She was also part of the double-play combination that turned several double plays this season.
"Courtney's first priority is the success of the team," Alpert said. "She was on base all the time and scored a lot of runs for us. She helped us turn the program around as a freshman, going from two wins to .500.
"I will miss these four players. They are truly amazing young ladies."
She also earned All-League Second Team for volleyball her senior year. She helped the Knights win a couple of district championships playing under head coaches Dan Sullivan (freshman and sophomore seasons) and Joe LaMagno (junior and senior seasons).
"They were definitely two different style coaches," Slabaugh said. "Coach Sullivan was more laid back, while coach LaMagno was more vocal. I had fun playing volleyball, but softball was my best sport."
She was a whiz in the classroom, earning a 4.1 grade point average. With her high gpa, Slabaugh was accepted to the University of Michigan's Nursing School.
"I still want to play sports, so I want to try out for U-M's club softball team," she said. "We will see if I can handle the tough class work schedule before I commit to this club team."
This fall, Slabaugh's schedule consists of introduction to nursing, bio-chemistry, English and psychology.
There was no doubt she would attend U-M. The Slabaugh family members are huge Wolverine fans, so it was a natural fit.
"I can't wait to go to school," she said. "I'm a little nervous, but I get a friend as my roommate, Ariana Castillo (Liggett 2013 graduate), and we can't wait to go to the football games and enjoy college life."
She learned volleyball and softball while playing CYO at St. Clair Shores St. Germaine.