After outscoring Coopersville 37-2 in their three regular-season meetings, Spring Lake softball had their hands full in Monday’s district semifinal, as they squeaked by the Broncos 2-0 thanks to a 15-strikeout performance by ace Leah Vaughan and a late home run by Jenna Core.
With the final following immediately after, Spring Lake faced Kenowa Hills for the first time this season. Vaughan took the mound once again, this time relying on her defense and a 10-run performance from her fellow Laker batters to clinch their fifth straight district title in a 10-5 victory.
“It’s 0-0 when you get to the tournament,” said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. “No matter what sport. Coopersville deserves a lot of credit. They could have come in here and been intimidated but they weren’t one bit.
“We had beaten them three times very handily. Today, everything we hit was right at them and they made all the plays they had to. They only had one hit and Leah had 15 strikeouts, but there we were, up 1-0 in the sixth. Jenna’s home run helped us advance there.
“Against Kenowa, we scored five and they scored two to make it a game, I said to the girls, ‘This is the district finals, did you think they were going to just roll over and die?’ I give the kids a lot of credit for continuing through those punches and responding.”
Core led the Laker offense in Game 1, scoring both runs on an RBI single by Alicia Mumby and her solo home run. She continued the scoring tear in the finals, belting a 3-run homer in the third inning.
On the day, Vaughan picked up two victories with 25 strikeouts, allowing just five hits and one walk. Core led with four hits, two home runs and five RBIs and five runs scored.
The two games put the Lakers’ next-level teamwork on display with fantastic pitching carrying a quiet offense in Game 1 and timely hitting seeing a pitcher through two tough innings in the finals.
“Leah was able to keep us in that first game when we didn’t score, and when they scored a few in the finals we gave her 10 runs,” Core said. “We are going to be pretty hard to beat with her on the mound and 10 runs behind her.”
Despite her talents, the support is a must-have for Spring Lake’s No. 1 pitcher.
“I just have to tell myself we still have the lead and we can get those runs back,” Vaughan said of the Kenowa comeback. “It feels really good to be able to trust my team to get runs and make plays in the field. It really takes a lot of pressure off me.”
The championship was well earned through an atypical final, with small ball, timely errors and savvy baserunning making the difference in a back-and-forth game.
“It was a weird game,” Core said. “For example, we ran a squeeze play but missed the bunt, but they picked it up and threw to third and into left field, so we scored two runs. Another play, we bunted, they throw over first base and we score another two runs. It was still 0-0 after two innings, next thing you know we get three, they get two, we get three, they get one.
“In this tournament, it can be so important to score first and we were able to. Then, every time they scored we responded and I think that eventually wore them down. They are a good team, and I was proud of the way we persevered.”
As seniors, Vaughan and her fellow classmates successfully swept the district tournament during their career. In spite of the run, they enjoyed hoisting their fourth trophy.
“It feels good,” Vaughan said. “I would have felt empty if we didn’t win this one. I’m excited for regionals. I think we can really make a dent.”
The regional tournament is scheduled to run at Grand Rapids South Christian on Saturday, where Portland awaits in the semifinals at noon with the finals following at 2 p.m. vs. the winner of Allendale and GR South Christian.