With this our fourth installment in the weekly All-Decade posts, there's no question it was the toughest to whittle down so far. I'm sure I've missed some people. Tell us about it.
Remember, we're introducing a potential All-Decade team each Thursday until December, when, based on your comments and my original groupings, we'll come up with our All-Decade teams for each sport. Check out the links at the bottom of this post to contribute to all of the conversations so far.
Here's what I have at this point for softball:
Pitcher - Jessica Beech, Okemos -- Only played one season this decade, 2000, but won Miss Softball as the state's top pitcher and is likely the best player ever from this area. Played at and now coaches at Michigan State.
Pitcher - Rachel Turney, Everett -- Graduated after being LSJ Player of the Year in 2003 as the Vikings' leader in wins (88), ERA (0.60) and strikeouts (1,052 in 649 1/3 innings) in three seasons on the varsity squad. Played at Lansing Community College and MSU.
Catcher - Tiffany Cupp, Eaton Rapids -- Hit 15 home runs with 109 RBI over her final two seasons, including being named LSJ Player of the Year in 2007. Played at LCC and likely could play at a number of Division I schools although she's at this point undecided on continuing her college career.
Infielder - Lindsey Pettit, Portland -- A first baseman, had 46 extra-base hits and 77 RBI in leading the Raiders to the state semifinals as both a junior and senior in 2007 and 2008, respectively. An all-stater after both and the LSJ overall female Athlete of the Year as a senior, she plays basketball instead at Ferris State.
Infielder - Lindsay Bowen, Dansville -- The future MSU basketball star was a three-time all-area Dream Team selection in softball and LSJ Player of the Year as a senior in 2002. Her 13 home runs that year still rank in the MHSAA record book.She played shortstop but could easily move to second base on this team.
Infielder - Jenny Poff, St. Johns -- Hit .542, .502 and .573 in her three LSJ Dream Team seasons with only a handful of errors total while playing shortstop for the Redwings, although she was better known as one of the state's top basketball prospects as a senior in 2005. Played hoops at MSU and Ohio University, and softball briefly for the Spartans.
Infielder - Kellie Watson, Ionia -- Lost her senior season because of multiple shoulder injuries and was all-state as a junior despite them. She played shortstop at her healthiest in 2006, when she made her first of two all-state teams, and while a huge hitter could also move to third base on this team with the best arm this area saw this decade. Plays basketball at Notre Dame.
Outfielder - Latoya Beasley, Everett -- Stole 71 bases her final two seasons before graduating in 2003, when she also hit 11 home runs to finish her career. Also an outstanding fielder in making two straight LSJ Dream Teams. Outstanding student attended Central Michigan, but I don't believe played softball.
Outfielder - Shannon Harrington, St. Johns/Bath -- Harrington played outfield for Bath's Division 4 state champion team in 2002 before moving to St. Johns where she pitched and caught. She was the LSJ Player of the Year as a senior in 2004. Played at Alma College.
Outfielder - Amber Olejniczak, Alma -- Hit .425 with 102 stolen bases during her four-year career, during which she also pitched and made all-state twice. Played at Central Michigan.
Utility - Sarah Patterson, Okemos -- Arguably Turney's match pitching, Patterson could contribute there or at least with a dangerous bat. She struck out 890 over her final two seasons, and as LSJ Player of the Year as a senior in 2008 was Softball Classic MVP, hit. 526 with 53 RBI, and was 28-5. Plays at CMU.
Others in the conversation:
Pitcher - Chelsea Sundberg, Olivet -- With one season to go, Sundberg was the LSJ Player of the Year this spring and should be a Miss Softball candidate as a senior. She had more than 600 strikeouts this season although she lost a few when the Eagles had to forfeit some games after accumulating too many regular-season game points.
Pitcher - Danielle Buche, Portland -- Arguably the best of an oustanding group of Portland pitchers this decade, was the LSJ Player of the Year in 2005 with 435 strikeouts, a school record. Played at LCC.
Catcher - Brita Kuiper, Olivet -- A little bit underrated perhaps coming from a small school, or some other poor reason, Kuiper was one of a handful locally who hit Patterson two seasons ago when she was an all-stater. Plays basketball at Huntington College.
Catcher - Amy Siwek, DeWitt -- Didn't allow a passed ball in her final two seasons of 2001 and 2002, and threw out 19 of 25 would-be stealers as a senior while also hitting .448.
Infielder - Barb Fordyce, DeWitt -- The last cut from my original group was a three-time LSJ Dream Team pick at second base and could easily move back into that top team. Nearly flawless in the field, she also excelled at getting on base and terrorizing as a runner. Was a three-time all-stater.
Infielder - Kristen Paterson, Okemos -- Was a two-time LSJ Dream Team selection who played both second and first base for some incredible Chieftains teams.
Infielder - Jenny Gilkens, Alma -- Also a multiple-time pick for the LSJ Dream Team, this shortstop hit .592 as a senior in helping her team to the Softball Classic title, during which she hit .777.
Infielder - Erin Ballinger, DeWitt -- Like Beech, played only one season this decade. But she was a three-time LSJ Dream Team selection. A shortstop, also was an all-leaguer at Grand Valley State.
Infielder - Sarah Johnson, Portland -- She supplied much of the offense as well for Portland's best teams, and was a three-time all-stater. Plays at Alma College.
Utility - Caitlin Hitchcock, Portland St. Patrick -- Her Shamrocks could hang with many of the area's best, as she played outfield early in her career before moving to shortstop and graduating in 2004. Played at LCC.
Utility - Amber Sawyer, Eaton Rapids -- She's also got a season left, but was MVP in leading Eaton Rapids to its first Softball Classic title this spring, and should earn her second all-state award as a senior. She has 91 RBI over the last two seasons, playing outfield and pitching.
Utility - Jessica Stiffler, Portland -- A catcher mostly but also an outstanding outfielder, Stiffler probably would have been even more honored if not on teams loaded with all-staters. She was also a huge part of Portland's two semifinalists.
And the coaches:
Jack Anderson, Portland -- One of the state's winningest coaches has consistently had one of the area's best teams this decade. Led the Raiders to two straight state semifinal appearances. He has more than 700 wins heading into his 30th season next spring.
Mark Kibby, Bath -- Led the Bees to the Division 4 state title in 2002, and after a few down years had them back among the Softball Classic contenders this spring despite being a Division 3 school.
Larry Baird, DeWitt -- Took the Panthers to quarterfinal appearances in 2004 and 2005 and retired with 750 wins in roughly three decades coaching.
Others: Andy Barr (Ionia), Bob Kruger (Grand Ledge), Jeff Cheadle (Everett and Laingsburg), Mick Ream (Dansville), Hub Waite (Lansing Catholic), Danielle Tandoc (Okemos), Scott Warriner (Eaton Rapids).