Sementi's 500 wins the result of 24 years of relationships at Tuscola: 'The girls make it fun'

Apr. 23—TUSCOLA — You could tell Lenny Sementi had been around the Tuscola softball program for a while just by watching him hit pregame grounders and fly balls. Every hit was perfect, like clockwork, just tough enough of a play to make it feel game-like.

And you could tell he had gotten used to the bat, which made an awful cracking noise every time he made contact.

"It's broken," Sementi said later with a smile. "It's an old team bat."

He then coached the Warriors through a tough 8-7 extra-inning loss to Warrenburg-Latham in the first game of Monday's doubleheader. Tuscola also lost the second game, 12-9, to the Cardinals. He starts five freshmen this season, one of the youngest teams he's had in his 24 years at the helm of the program, and they're still making freshman mistakes.

"It's like babysitting half the time," Sementi joked in passing between games.

Then, he got back to work, raking the pitching circle and batter's boxes before fixing the lineup card for game two in the dugout. Business as usual, just like the last quarter-century.

Tuscola athletic director Ryan Hornaday interrupted Sementi and called him back out to the field for a special announcement. Sementi knew it was coming, but he doesn't care for the spotlight, so he reluctantly made his way out, still messing with the lineup, and sported an embarrassed grin.

It was the Warriors' first home game since last Friday's 10-8 comeback road win over Sullivan, which was the 500th victory of Sementi's career.

"It means I'm old," Sementi said with a smile. "When I did this, I thought I'd only coach for a year. It's turned into 23 and now 500 wins."

Being only seven wins away from the milestone coming into the season, Sementi knew last Friday's win had a little more meaning to it. Normally, he doesn't pay attention to that kind of stuff, but it's hard not to when you're that close. His 400th win came in similar fashion, as he ended the 2018 season stuck on 399.

While Sementi knew, his players had no idea. The only thing on their minds was beating their rival.

"We all just really wanted to win and beat Sullivan. We always want to beat Sullivan," senior Emily Czerwonka said. "When we found out it was his 500th win, it was just more exciting."

Sementi's winning percentage at Tuscola is north of 70 percent, and he's coached the Warriors to 11 regional titles, four sectional titles and a 2012 fourth-place state finish in Class 1A. He's only had two losing seasons, both coming in his first five years.

And he's helped 42 players continue their softball careers in college. Six of them have played at the Division I level — most notably, Morgan Day pitched for Oklahoma State in the 2022 College World Series — with junior Illinois State-commit Ava Boyer set to become the seventh after next season.

For Sementi, however, it's about much more than success on the softball field. It's about "being around the girls and making life better for them," which has made him somewhat of a father figure for his players.

"I wouldn't want any other coach," senior Zoey Thomason said. "He's not just about winning. He puts his players over wins. His relationship with the team is amazing. He focuses on the players and building relationships with them."

Sementi holds team breakfasts and even Easter egg hunts at his house to keep that family atmosphere fresh. He said spending time with the players has been his favorite part of the journey.

"The girls make it fun," Sementi said. "I'm tough on them. I'm an old-school coach. I still yell a little bit and get upset. They're just good kids, and they keep coming back."

That bond makes for plenty of fun moments. Thomason did her best Sementi impression, lowering her voice and making it a little raspy to say "He's always like 'Go get 'em, kid.'"

"He likes to have fun and joke around with all of us," senior Addyson Ring added. "We like to call him names a lot, too."

One of those names is "Zesty," and he'll make them do push ups if he hears it. Another is a little more casual, which has the same result.

"He doesn't like when we call him 'Bruh.' He says 'I'm not your bruh,'" Czerwonka said with a laugh. "Then, he'll make you do push ups."

Memories of some of Sementi's wins have faded over the years, but one sticks out above the rest. The Warriors made their first state appearance in 2012 with a 2-1 super-sectional win over Dwight at the University of Illinois. On the same day, Tuscola's baseball team made its second state appearance at the time with a 10-6 win over Tremont, which eventually led to a Class 1A state runner-up finish.

His 500th win is up there, too, going into the sixth inning down 7-3 and rallying with 21 hits to come out on top.

Another 500 wins, and Sementi can join St. Joseph-Ogden legend Randy Wolken as the only softball coaches in IHSA history with 1,000 in their career. But Sementi is confident that record is safe.

"I don't know," Sementi said with a laugh of how many more he has left in the tank. "I'm not going to catch Randy Wolken, I know that."