Spring Lake softball team improves to 40-0, captures Division 2 regional title

Josh VanDyke • Jun 10, 2018 at 5:14 AM

HOLLAND — When the Spring Lake softball team recorded the final out of the afternoon to capture their second straight regional championship, there was no elaborate celebrations, screams of jubilation or tears of joy.

Just a measured collection of high-fives, smiles and hugs.

That's the epitome of this year's undefeated Spring Lake squad after recording their 40th straight victory of the spring. No flashy, look-at-me moments, just fundamental softball that has been executed to near-perfection at an astonishingly consistent pace this spring.

With a loaded roster that shares a singular focus — winning a state championship — you'll have to excuse them if they save their energy on celebrations for the ultimate team prize that awaits at Secchia Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University on June 16.

The talented bunch took two big steps toward that prize on Saturday in the Division 2 regional tournament at Wolters Stadium on the campus of Hope College. The Lakers survived a defensive battle with Wayland (2-1) in the semifinal round and proved to be too much for upset-minded Holland Christian (11-0 in five innings) in the finals.

"I just think we work really well together," said senior team co-captain Lauren Somers. "We're such a tight-knit team. We are all really close, so the times that we do get really excited and emotional is when someone else makes a play. Leah (Vaughan) made that diving catch for a double play against Wayland, and I just ran over there and gave her a big hug because I was so excited for her."

"We weren't going into the tournament expecting to win regionals, but we were prepared for the moment if we did," added junior pitcher Leah Vaughan. "I think that's why we were a little more reserved with our celebration. We're excited to get back to the quarterfinals, and now we want to go out there and win it all."

SEMIFINALS: Spring Lake 2, Wayland 1

In a matchup that pitted the No.2-ranked team in the state against the No. 6-ranked team in the state, it was the starting pitchers that stole the show.

After a scoreless struggle through three and a half innings, the Lakers broke through in the bottom of the fourth with RBI singles by junior pitcher Leah Vaughan and freshman third baseman Alicia Mumby.

Wayland wasted no time answering, with a solo home run by Lauren McCulligh in the top of the fifth, but Vaughan closed the door the rest of the way, finishing with nine strikeouts and only three hits allowed to pick up the win from the circle.

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"When you talk Wayland softball and Cheri Ritz, there's no program in the area that's been more magical than them in the postseason," said Core after the semifinal win. "We knew we were in for a battle, and this would be the third time in the last four seasons that we've played them in the regionals. That was a heck of a game.

"Abby Merice was great today for them. She threw a little quicker than we were expecting, which resulted in a lot of foul balls, because we were just missing on our cuts. We were able to manufacture a run with some small ball, and we actually scored both of our runs in the same inning.

"Leah Vaughan had an unbelievable at-bat that got us on the board. She went to a 3-2 count, fouled off four or five pitches to stay alive and then knocked in that single to score our first run. After that, Alicia Mumby gets a two-out hit to score the second run.

"So, we didn't have a ton of baserunners today, but we had timely hitting."

Despite some key hits from the plate, it was Vaughan's dominance from the circle that ultimately made the difference in the game.

"Leah Vaughan was phenomenal today," Core added. "For her to keep a talented player like Merice, who's been hitting .500 since she came out of the womb, off the bases today was just incredible. She went 1-2-3 in every inning except the sixth.

"In that inning, she gave up a home run and a single, but the next at-bat, she catches that bunt on a diving play and throws back to first for a double play. She regained her composure quickly and made a big play to help us get out of a jam.

"This is a big win for us. Last year, we had an extra-innings game against Allendale in the districts that really pushed us to the brink, and this game felt a lot like that. We have a talented team, but you have to have some luck along the way."

Spring Lake senior Kileah Rymal got the ball rolling in the game with a base hit in the bottom of the third inning. That opened things up for the rest of the lineup and gave Rymal enough confidence to keep swinging hard for the rest of the afternoon.

"I knew that we had to string some hits together, because Wayland is pretty good, and they have a good pitcher," she said. "We practiced against some left-handed pitchers during practice this week. We had a few schools come over and scrimmage us to help us prepare for that, and I think that helped us.

"Last year, I did pretty well at regionals against her, too, so I was excited to get another chance and I broke through with the first hit of the game."

FINALS: Spring Lake 11, Holland Christian 0 (five innings)

In the championship game, the Lakers showcased just how talented their roster is, with nearly every player making a contribution from the plate or in the field.

Against a Holland Christian squad that celebrated its ninth win of the season with a regional semifinal win over Comstock Park (2-1) early in the day, Spring Lake was simply overpowering.

The Lakers finished with 15 hits as a team, led by Vaughan with four hits and four RBIs and Linsey Paggeot with three hits and four runs scored. Lauren Hellman and Somers each added two hits.

Vaughan picked up her second win of the day, throwing a two-hitter in four innings of work. Somers pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning to close out the win.

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"I think everyone was excited about the Spring Lake-Wayland showdown, but the fact is, it wasn't the regional championship," said Core. "We talked between games about refocusing after that long wait. We were excited to get past Wayland, but that was just an avenue to the championship. We still had another game to play.

"We had a new pitcher to adjust to and prepare for, and you never know how that's going to play out. After our first couple at-bats, I felt pretty good, because even the outs we were recording were hard hit. It was nice to score one run in the top of the first inning and put a little pressure on them. After that, we kept gradually piling on runs and pulled away from there."

Core decided to take Vaughan out of the game in the fifth inning as a way of awarding her with an ovation from the Spring Lake crowd for her performances on the day. The Lakers didn't see much of a drop-off when their other starting pitcher, Somers, entered the game in the fifth and mowed down three straight batters.

"Lauren Somers is a really good pitcher, too," added Core. "We wanted to give Leah a nice gesture for her performance today, so we took her out in the fifth and had Lauren close it out. We have the luxury of throwing two pretty talented pitchers out there, and that's a nice thing to have on your roster.

"I thought Kileah was dialed in today from the plate, Lauren Somers had a couple hits that were big for us in the second game and Leah probably led the team in hits on the day, and she was just overpowering from the circle. We had some quality swings from our entire lineup, though. Everyone did something to contribute, whether it was a hit, a bunt to advance the runner, a defensive put out or just a hustle play, everyone executed."


For Vaughan, the standout performance is made more spectacular given the fact that she was nursing a bruised left hand. During a scrimmage earlier in the week, a line drive caught Vaughan in her off-hand and put her availability for Saturday's game in doubt.

At least to her coaches.

"There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to play," she said after the finals. "I'm sure the coaches had their concerns, but I was ready to go. Once I got out there and started playing, it really wasn't bothering me. I just completely forgot about it and didn't want it to affect my play. Then, I dove for a ball and quickly remembered that it was sore, so I was a little more careful after that."

The injury also made her coaches question whether or not she should be in the batting lineup. Luckily for the Lakers, she was prepared to take a few swings.

"I've been wanting to hit really badly because, at practice, coach is always talking about whether or not I should even go up to the plate," she added. "I always tell him, ‘I just want to hit,' and today, I went out there and got a few hits.

"In the first game, I was a little worried about exposing my hand like that, but once I started fouling some pitches off, I got some confidence. After that, I felt like I was seeing the ball well and swinging through contact."


The Lakers (40-0) advance to play South Haven, who knocked off top-ranked Stevensville Lakeshore in the regional finals, in Tuesday's Division 2 quarterfinals at Hope College. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Wolters Stadium.

"It feels great to win regionals, but I want to keep this going now," added Somers. "I think we're more prepared now than we were last year heading into the quarterfinals."

Somers' coach concurred.

"This team is just so focused," added Core. "We feel more prepared this time. We're ready to not just get to the quarterfinals but to compete once we get there. We know it'll be a tall task no matter who we go up against, but these kids have been competitors all year.

"40 wins is a lot and to reach the quarterfinals makes it a special season. We'll see how things play out, but I'd never count these kids out, that's for sure."

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