Reaching the quarterfinals for a third straight season, the Lakers displayed the grit and elite pitching that helped carry them to this point. Leah Vaughan was dominant in the circle, allowing three runs with seven strikeouts in seven innings.
Vaughan breezed through the Lakeshore lineup early, tossing five scoreless innings. She ran into some trouble in the sixth inning, though, as Lakeshore started the inning with a double off the fence. Lakeshore then squeezed the runner to third, ultimately scoring the game’s first run.
Heading back out for the seventh inning, Lakers coach Bill Core implored the importance of keeping the game within one run, but the Lakers allowed two runs in the top of the seventh.
Staring a three-run deficit in the face entering the bottom of the seventh inning, Lakers' slugger Jenna Core basted her 37th career home run deep over the left-center fence. Lakers fans and players cheered wildly, finally on the scoreboard and back in the game.
Right after the home run, Spring Lake drew a walk and momentum seemed to shift to their side. Lakeshore was on the ropes, but its manager felt the danger and made a pitching change. Lakeshore’s new pitcher cruised through Spring Lake’s next two batters ending the threat and dashing Spring Lake’s hopes for a semifinal berth.
“It sure was (a chess match),” said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. “When you get this level it’s literally a game of inches. Both pitchers were phenomenal. Neither team could get anything going. Obviously (Lakeshore) did a little more, but we were competitive all game.
“Lakeshore made some nice plays to get their first run. I then told my team we needed a zero in the seventh inning. I knew if we could keep it a one-run lead with some power hitters coming up, we’d have a chance. We weren’t able to do that, but we went for it, and that’s what I asked of the team.”
Despite the loss, Spring Lake proudly graduated and celebrated one of its most successful senior classes, regardless of sport, in school history. Led by Vaughan and Core, the Lakers’ six seniors went 140-17 with four conference titles, four district titles, three regional titles and a number of personal accolades.
“There’s a lot for this program and the seniors to be proud of,” said Core. “Last year we got beat late on a grand slam, and this year we were tied in the fifth inning. I couldn’t be prouder of how we went down swinging.”
This season, the Lakers outscored their opponents 22-9 in three district games. They then swept through the regional tournament with wins of 11-0 and 15-0 in five and three innings, respectively. The relative ease of their season matched their effortless success on the diamond.
All nine hitters in Spring Lake’s lineup enjoyed moments of excellence this season, coming up with timely hits, or advancing runners into scoring positions. It can be tough playing alongside stars like Vaughan and Core, but everyone on Spring Lake’s team bought into the narrative and enjoyed another long postseason run.
Core also got to experience a coach/father moment in the seventh inning Tuesday, when Jenna hit her home run in a crucial juncture of the game.
“She has (been clutch), obviously when things cool down here a bit, I’ll be proud of her as a dad,” Core said of Jenna.
“I’m proud of her as a coach, as I’m proud of all the girls. It’s special (Jenna) could end her high school career with a blast. I’m especially proud having a daughter who can say she went deep in the quarterfinals.”
Spring Lake athletics performed admirably across the board, especially the girls. The girls lacrosse team defeated a tough Lowell team in districts, continuing the area’s trend of growing programs. The soccer team again made a run to the regional final, where, for the third straight year, they lost to Forest Hills Northern. The boys golf team finished tied for seventh in the state, with Nick Krueger earning All-State honors. But the softball team’s lasting success helped put Spring Lake on the map, proving the small town just off Lake Michigan could hang with any school in any sport.