Spring Lake head coach Bill Core knew the 2016-17 Lakers squad had a chance to be special. The team returned eight of nine starters from a team that finished 31-6 overall and finished 16-0 in their final season in the Lakes Eight Conference.
With a roster filled with experience, hitters and athleticism, everyone around the program knew this could possibly be the year that the Lakers broke through and captured their first regional championship in coach Core’s 28 years as manager.
“We have very good pitching, but I don’t think we really have that one dominant pitcher just yet,” said Core back in March. “We’re still a very young team, so that is one area that we still have to wait and see on.”
Core didn’t have to wait long, as sophomore Leah Vaughan quickly took the reigns in the pitching circle, and finished the 2017 season with honorable mention All-State honors after compiling a 24-4 record, with 211 strikeouts in 175 innings pitched and an earned run average of 1.92.
Junior centerfielder Lauren Hellman was named first team All-State after recording a .477 batting average, scoring 65 runs, swiping 30 bases and knocking in 36 RBIs. Also having an outstanding season was junior second baseman Linsey Paggeot, as she continued to be one of the best hitters in the area, earning first team All-State honors with a .467 batting average, 54 runs scored and 49 RBIs.
“We’re a dangerous team because everyone in our lineup is capable of making a play,” Core said after a contest against Allendale. “Opposing pitchers can’t relax when they get to the bottom of our lineup because we have players like Lauren Somers and Kileah Rymal that can knock the ball into the outfield, get on base and set up the top of our order with runners in scoring position.”
The Lakers were in scoring position for most of the spring season it seemed like, outscoring their opponents, 417-94.
The team finished 37-5 overall, which broke last year’s school record for most wins in a season. They also finished the O-K Blue Conference slate unscathed at 18-0, pushing their conference win streak to 60 games dating back to their time in the Lakes Eight Conference. The team won their fifth straight conference title, their third straight district title and the first regional championship in program history.
Collectively, the team finished Academic All-State with a 3.77 team GPA. Seniors Ann Marie Galloway and Addison Lindsey were named to the Individual Academic All-State team, as well.
Here’s a look back at the Lakers’ memorable run through the postseason.
Spring Lake’s road to the quarterfinals
Pre-District opener: Defeated Fruitport, 8-3
Spring Lake used a small-ball strategy to scrape across two runs through four innings of play, while sophomore ace Leah Vaughan kept the Fruitport bats at bay.
True to form, the Laker bats hit a power surge in the fifth inning, breaking the game open with six runs to take a commanding 8-0 lead. The highlight of that inning came with the bases loaded when Vaughan lifted a ball over the left centerfield fence for a grand slam.
District Semifinal: Defeated Allendale, 5-3 in eight innings
The Lakers fell behind early to the host Falcons, 3-0, due to stranding seven base runners through the first three innings.
In the fifth inning, the Lakers scored three runs, highlighted by a two-run home run by Molly Poole and a RBI single by Jenna Core, to tie the game at 3-3.
The game extended into extra innings, and in the eighth inning, the Lakers scored runs by Lauren Hellman and Kileah Rymal to take a 5-3 lead in the top of the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, Leah Vaughan closed down the Falcons to help the Lakers survive the early scare.
District final: Defeated Coopersville, 13-3
Against Coopersville, the Lakers exploded for six runs in the third inning to break a 2-2 tie. Madelyn Nelson hit a two-run home run for the Lakers, while Lauren Hellman added three hits for the game.
Lauren Somers earned the win, throwing the final five innings in relief of Vaughan, who picked up the win in the semifinals.
Regional Semifinal: Defeated Hudsonville Unity Christian, 6-0.
In the regional semifinals, the Lakers finally broke through their scoreless streak at Hope College with a 2-run third inning, followed by one run in the fourth and three more in the fifth for a 6-0 shutout win over Hudsonville Unity Christian.
Vaughn scattered seven hits, walked none and struck out 12 for the win. Linsey Paggeot had three hits to lead the Laker bats, while Lauren Somers had a two-run single in the fifth to fuel the offensive output.
Regional final: Defeated Wayland Union, 7-6
In the regional final, Wayland Union took an early 1-0 lead, but the Lakers responded by scoring a run of their own in the bottom of the inning, sparked by a double by Molly Poole, who would later score from second base.
Kileah Rymal would help give the Lakers their first lead of the game when she tripled and later scored from third base to give Spring Lake a 2-1 lead midway through the third inning. Wayland responded with a 2-run home run by Leigha Morse to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth inning.
Spring Lake didn’t panic, and quickly took the lead back thanks to an RBI triple by Lauren Somers, followed by a RBI single by Rymal and a squeeze play at home that helped net the Lakers three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning for a 5-3 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, Somers would get the ball rolling with another triple as the Lakers would add two insurance runs to push their lead to 7-3 with just three outs separating them from a regional championship.
Then, things got interesting.
After two Wildcats reached base on a single and a walk, Wayland Union connected on a pitch that went sailing toward the fence and ricocheted over for a 3-run shot that brought the score to the narrowest of margins, 7-6.
With Wayland riding a wave of momentum and Spring Lake starting to show signs of fatigue, the game was hanging in the balance. Vaughan would get ahead in the pitch count on the next batter, before forcing a flyout to Core to record the game’s final out and start the celebration for the Spring Lake faithful.
Division 2 Quarterfinals: Lost to Stevensville Lakeshore, 6-1
After a scoreless opening inning, Stevensville Lakeshore scored two runs on three hits in the bottom of the second inning to take an early 2-0 lead.
Spring Lake would cut the lead in half in the top half of the third inning, when junior Madelyn Nelson dropped a sacrifice bunt that scored Lauren Hellman from third base.
That would be the only digit the Lakers would put on the scoreboard the rest of the way, however, as the Lancers would only allow one more hit through the next four innings of play.
At the plate, the Lancers would add two more runs in the bottom of the third and one run each in the fifth and sixth innings to build an insurmountable lead.
They key to the Lancers’ win was the play of ace pitcher Taylor Simon, who struck out 12 Laker batters over seven innings of work, giving up four hits, one walk and one earned run from the mound.
“I think between setting the school record for wins in a season (37) and then going out and winning the program’s first regional championship, this team has separated themselves from the other Spring Lake teams of the past,” Core admitted. “And, with only two seniors on the team, we still have a lot to look forward to.”
The Lakers of 2016-17 put on quite the show, regardless of playing surface. From the diamond to the pool to the pitch, Spring Lake brought its best, earning honorable mentions on our top teams list in the water and on the turf.
Spring Lake girls soccer team
The Spring Lake girls soccer team took full advantage of their first season in the O-K Blue Conference, winning it outright on their way to a regional final appearance.
The Lakers finished undefeated in O-K Blue play, clinching their title in the final conference game of the season with an 8-0 drubbing of Comstock Park, finishing the regular season as the No. 12 team in Division 2.
After their run through the Blue, Spring Lake was firing on all cylinders entering the regional tournament. They dismissed Fremont in their district opener game, 8-0. Beyond that, the Laker’s playoff run was challenging.
A physical test came against Muskegon Reeths-Puffer in the district semifinal round, as the Rockets did everything they could to slow down Emily Batts, Laney Peasely and the rest of the Spring Lake offense. After a scoreless first half, the Lakers put up two goals in the second to take the win by as many, earning a trip to the district finals against rival Fruitport.
The Trojans had a special year of their own, but couldn’t keep pace with Spring Lake in the final round of the district tournament. The Lakers took their final game at home, 3-0, to earn a bid to the regional tournament.
There, the drama ratcheted up to 11. Spring Lake faced Cadillac in the regional semifinal, coming back from down, 2-0, in the second half for a 3-2 win and a shot at a regional title.
In the final, defending state runner-up Forest Hills Northern came to play, as did the Lakers. The two were locked in a 0-0 tie for 79 of the 80 minutes. With just over 30 seconds to play, the Huskies netted the first goal of the game, ending the Lakers’ playoff run one win away from tying their highest finish ever. Northern went on to fall in the state championship game to Bloomfield Hills Marian.
The Lakers graduate six players from this years’ team, but retain most of their scoring power with a core of young players and promising junior varsity squad coming up to fill spots. Expect these ballers to make another run in the 2018 season.
Spring Lake Boys and Girls Swim Teams
The Spring Lake boys and girls swim teams put together a year for the books in 2016-17, claiming spots on the school record boards and lines in the Laker history books.
The girls kicked off this year with their highest finish at the Division 3 state meet ever, coming in at a cool eighth place. Led by seniors Meghan Peel and Jen Meulenbelt, the Lakers cracked the top five in the 200-tard medley relay, earning them All-State honors, while Peel and Meulenbelt earned additional All-State recognition as individuals.
Immediately following the girls, Rob Peel took over for his first head coaching stint at the helm of the Spring Lake boys team. In his first year coaching, Peel led the Lakers to a top-five finish at the Division 3 state meet, the highest in program history, while toppling a slew of school records- all with a core scoring team of freshmen and sophomores.
Peel, Meulenbelt, Annie Brechting and Sara Mumby teamed up for two straight years as the Laker 200 Medley Relay, breaking the school record in 2015 and lowering it this season. Their final time of 1:48.28 was good for fourth overall at the state meet.
Peel would go on to take seventh overall in the 100-yard butterfly, clocking in at 58.20 seconds, before staging a comeback in the 100 backstroke, dropping a 57.51 to take a silver medal.
Meulenbelt would finish off her stellar year with a seventh-place finish in the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:12.37 and a fifth-place finish in the 100 breastroke to close out the meet. Both senior girls earned All-State honors for each of their events.
The Laker boys were led by an influx of young talent any program in the state would swoon for. Five school records were set and reset, with names toppling off the board from the outset of the season through the state finals. The Lakers pulled off a historic dual-meet win over Grand Haven before taking third at the O-K Greater Grand Rapids Conference meet and fourth at the Division 3 state meet.
Freshman KJ Losee ended the season with three All-State certificates. One individually for a seventh place in the 200 I.M. (1:59.44) and two as part of the school-record setting 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.
Fellow freshman Joey Wachter put on an equally impressive show, also joining in for both All-State relay efforts, while grabbing his third certificate in the 100 backstroke. Wachter reset his own backstroke school record in prelims with a 52.68, before coming in at 52.95 for third place at the final session.
Sophomore sprinter Cam Peel continued the family’s take over of Division 3 swimming as top-dog speedster for the Lakers. Also a member of the two All-State relays, Peel dashed out to a sixth place, All-State, school record setting 21.47 in the 50 freestyle and a third place, All-State, school record 46.99 in the 100 freestyle.
Some upperclassmen leadership joined the All-State youngster parade as Junior Will Brown completed the fourth place 200 medley relay, serving as the breastroker, while Wachter took on breastroke, Losee butterfly and Peel the freestyle.
Senior Charlie Slajus joined Peel, Losee and Wacther in the third place 400-freestyle relay as the foursome lowered their own school record once again, setting the bar at 3:10.35.
Junior Drew Fogel rounded out the Lakers’ premiere scoring team, scoring points in each of his individual swims.
The Lakers preceded their finish at the state meet with a third place team finish at the Greater Grand Rapids swim conference meet, including conference titles for Wachter in the 100 backstroke and the 400 freestyle relay. The 400 freestyle relay win earned the foursome the Butch Briggs award and a heap of confidence going into the state meet.