Jenna Core, Janna Ercole, Emily Harvey, Layni Wyns, Leah Vaughan and Molly Poole had their hands full on their senior night as No. 8 Allendale came to town for a crucial doubleheader in the O-K Blue Conference standings.
Both teams entered the game with just three losses overall and 15-0 marks in conference play, with the Lakers looking to extend their conference winning streak past 93 consecutive games.
A hard-fought Game 1 ended in a 3-2 Spring Lake victory. Trailing 2-0 early, the Lakers put their poise on display in a rare close game, scoring one in the third inning and tying the game in the fourth before scoring the winning run in the sixth, capitalizing on a potential inning-ending Allendale error.
Vaughan clinched the win with a three-up, three-down seventh inning from the pitching circle, finishing the complete game with six hits surrendered at 14 strikeouts while adding two hits at the plate. Molly Poole led the offense with two doubles and two runs scored.
The tight win set up an appropriately jubilant senior celebration between games for one of the most successful senior classes in history.
The Class of 2019 has pieced together a historic run thus far, winning more than 100 games in their four years, including three conference titles, three district titles and two regional titles, all of which are still up for grabs this year. On top of the wins, these Lakers have captured school records in home runs and doubles hit, incredible pitching numbers, .500 hitting seasons, and more stolen bases than could fit in a bank vault.
“It is a great group,” said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. “The three veteran players have led by example from Day 1 and the first-year starters are playing with so much confidence. It’s been a nice blend.
“Leah and Jenna have been four-year starters, Molly is a three-year starter, Janna and Laney stepped up this year as first-year starters and are hitting over .300, Emily Harvey was on JV last year and helped save that program as a junior and has been our No. 1 courtesy runner.
“To be 28-4 at this point, a lot of people would think that would have been the case with who we lost and how we started. I’ve been really proud of where we started to where we are today.”
Despite the ceaseless stream of accolades, Tuesday’s senior night ended sour, as Allendale punched a 10-4 victory in Game 2.
The Falcons scored early and often to take the game, using a five-run second inning to take a 6-0 lead heading into the third. Spring Lake would rally at the plate, scoring four runs to close the gap, but Allendale was quick to cover with insurance runs.
Vaughan took the loss, just her 10th in four years as a starting pitcher for the Lakers. Avery Flynn knocked two hits, while Poole added a two-run triple to lead the offense.
The Game 2 loss brought the Lakers’ historic conference winning streak to an end at 94 consecutive games.
Beginning after a loss to then-Lakes Eight Conference rival Fruitport in May 2014, the Lakers’ remarkable streak has spanned five seasons, even surviving a switch out of the Lakes Eight and into the more competitive O-K Blue.
“It started after that Fruitport game back in ’14,” Core said. “And we didn’t think about it for a while until really last year.
“It really is kind of unheard of. I haven’t reflected on it a lot, because it is something we don’t talk about as a team. The freshmen this year were in fourth grade, the seniors were in seventh grade and I didn’t have gray hair when it started. Each team has its own piece. This year, we went 16-0 to add our piece to it.
“But, to think about not losing a conference game for five years, through two different conferences, that is pretty impressive.
“It is a tribute to our youth programs and parents playing catch with these kids and sitting through 32-18 tee-ball games. I get the polished players and get to do the fun job. You have to be lucky here and there, too.”
The end of the streak is a low note for senior night, but doesn’t change the season. Spring Lake has a whole lot left to play for, including a conference championship matchup today against Allendale.
“All good things come to an end,” Core added. “Hopefully, we start another one (today). We get to play a one-game series for a conference championship, not many teams get that chance.
“Allendale dusted themselves off after a tough loss today and got us in Game 2. We get to sleep on ours. We will learn a lot about ourselves in how we come back.”
First-pitch is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. at Allendale High School.