Grand Haven softball team drops emotional nailbiter against Caledonia

Josh VanDyke • May 11, 2018 at 2:16 AM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — The heavyweight slugfest between the Grand Haven and Caledonia softball squads entered Round 3 on Thursday afternoon with the underdog Buccaneers hoping to seek revenge on the No. 4-ranked Fighting Scots after dropping a one-run road contest April 23.

The Buccaneers once again had the Scots on the ropes with a three-run lead late in the contest, only for Caledonia to come storming back to take a one-run lead in the top of the seventh inning.

Grand Haven couldn't answer in the bottom of the inning against star pitcher Sammie Gehrls, as the Scots escaped with another dramatic win at Grand Haven, 8-7.

"We fought and we battled, but we just didn't make the little plays that make a big difference in tight games like this," said Grand Haven head coach John Hall after the game. "That's the No. 4 team in the state, so they aren't going to beat themselves. One of these days, we'll make those plays, and we'll close out games like this."

Haley Aldred recorded three hits and two RBIs to lead the Bucs from the plate, while Baby Hang added three hits and Madison Shumkaer added three hits and one RBI.

Jackie Crow and Kaelyn Stafford each knocked in two RBIs.

From the circle, Shumaker went four and two-thirds innings, allowing six runs (four earned) on 11 hits with three walks and two strikeouts. Megan Faber pitched two and one-third innings in relief, giving up two runs on four hits.



Both Grand Haven and Caledonia players wore green ribbons in their hair during Thursday's game to celebrate the life of former Grand Haven student Makay VanOort, who died March 18 after a battle with cancer.

"A lot of these girls were really close with Makay and to be able to honor him like that was really special," added Hall. "We talked about it earlier in the year, and we decided to do it for this game.

"It's ironic, because last year, Caledonia lost a great athlete (Macayla Kohn) in a tragic car accident, and they honored her in a game against us. So, I called Tom (Kaechle) and told him that we were doing something similar this time around.

"Baby and Haley were really close with him, and they wanted to do something special for him and his family. It really drives home the point that there's more to life than a game. This field is nothing more than an extension of a classroom and an extension of life itself. There are lessons to be learned everywhere, but when one of your friends passes away, an 8-7 loss doesn't really measure up to that."

For the team, the ability to honor a former classmate and friend was extra motivation in a pivotal game.

"We wanted to put everything out there for him and honor him the best way that we could," said junior Baby Hang. "He was a really good friend of my boyfriend growing up, and we all used to hang out together. I was a cancer survivor myself when I was little, so it really hit home when someone I was close to died of the same disease.

"I was devastated. I was really close with him, I had classes with him and we talked all the time. It was the best game I could have imagined to honor him with."



Caledonia started the game quickly from the plate, loading the bases in the first inning on a string of base hits. However, the Scots would only scratch one run across, as Shumaker would work her way out of the jam to end the inning and limit the damage.

Grand Haven would battle back with two runs in the bottom of the third inning to take a 2-1 lead, but Caledonia would immediately put three runs on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth to take a 4-2 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Buccaneer batters found their groove at the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning, exploding for five runs to surge ahead for a 7-4 lead.

Both teams would go scoreless in the fifth, but Caledonia didn't panic as the game drew closer and closer to the final frame. The Fighting Scots clawed back with two runs in the top of the sixth to draw within one run at 7-6.

Grand Haven couldn't add an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning, setting up a dramatic top of the seventh inning.

With two outs and runners on second and third base, Caledonia landed a line drive to centerfield that was nearly robbed by Kaelyn Stafford on a hustle play from the outfield. The Scots would score one run on the play to tie that game and add an RBI single in the next at-bat to take an 8-7 lead into the bottom of the seventh.

With Caledonia riding a wave of momentum, starting pitcher Sammie Gehrls revved up the heat, forcing Grand Haven into a 1-2-3 inning to close the game and give the Scots another narrow win over the Buccaneers.

"Like most teams in the state, we don't have a Sammie Gehrls," added Hall. "She's a phenomenal athlete who is going to play basketball and softball at Grand Valley State next year. She came in and mowed us down toward the end of the game, and she seemed to get stronger the later the game went on.

"What we do have are some kids that are growing up right in front of us. Every single kid hit the ball hard today. The only thing I ask of these girls is to give me 100 percent effort every day at practice or in the game. They did that today, and they left it all out there on the field. We just made one less play than they did."

In a game of inches, Hall believes a few different decisions could have made a difference in the outcome.

"I'll stew over this for awhile, because I feel like I made a couple mistakes as the coach," he continued. "That first inning, I had Ashlyn (Hall) bunt with Baby on base and it ended up costing us a potential run. That could have turned into a potential sac fly situation, so I was kicking myself for that. No one is perfect, but it's always the little things that cost you in games like this."


The Buccaneers are scheduled to take on Grandville today in an O-K Red Conference road doubleheader, but unfriendly forecasts will likely reschedule that contest. If it is postponed, Grand Haven will return to action Tuesday at Rockford for a single game with a 4:30 p.m. start.

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