Spring Lake used a pair of dominant pitching performances by Leah Vaughan, paired with fundamentally sound defensive play behind her and some timely swings at the plate to power past rivals Fruitport (7-2) and Allendale (7-1) and claim their fourth straight district championship.
See more photos from Saturday’s district tournament
Semifinals: Spring Lake 7, Fruitport 2
The Lakers held a 1-0 lead midway through the fifth inning before they were able to string together some big hits. Senior Linsey Paggeot recorded a two-RBI double in the fifth to push the Lakers ahead 4-0, followed by a two-RBI double by fellow senior Madelyn Nelson in the sixth inning that moved the Lakers ahead 7-0.
Fruitport rallied in the top of the seventh inning when Rachel Paulsen recorded a two-RBI double to bring the Trojans within five, but the rally would ultimately get snuffed out by Vaughan and the Laker defense.
Lauren Hellman, Paggeot, Molly Poole and Kileah Rymal each had two hits for the Lakers, while Vaughan was the winning pitcher, going all seven innings and finishing with 10 strikeouts.
For Fruitport, Paulsen led the way at the plate with two RBIs, while senior pitcher Aurora Wilks went all seven innings.
"Through five innings, it's a 1-0 game, and we had a couple girls that were one swing away," said Fruitport head coach Bob Dorman. "We left a couple runners on base and that made a difference, too.
"We can't give a team like Spring Lake four outs in an inning. We allowed them to stay alive a few times and they made us pay for it.
"We strung some hits together at the end and that just shows the character of this team. It was an emotional goodbye to my seniors, but I couldn't be prouder of how hard they battled to the very end. Besides being great ballplayers, they are all awesome kids. They put in the work in the classroom and in the community, too.
"These six seniors have done so much for this program, their school and their community."
The Bayou Battle regained its form Saturday with both coaches acknowledging the passion of the rivalry between the Lakers and the Trojans.
"I shook Bill's hand and hugged him after the game and said, ‘we kept the rivalry alive,' said Dorman. "Our hope now is that we lost to the future state champions and we gave them our best shot.
"Aurora pitched fantastic today. Other than a hit to the wall, she kept everything low and got some pop-ups. She really kept us in the game and gave us everything she had in her last game on the circle."
Finals: Spring Lake 7, Allendale 1
The Lakers scored two runs in the first inning, when Nelson batted in Hellman on an RBI single, followed by Nelson scoring on a squeeze play later that inning.
Jenna Core would add her 10th home run of the season to start the second inning to give the Lakers a 3-0 lead. Spring Lake would pull away in the fourth with three runs to extend their lead to 6-0.
In the sixth inning, Hellman tripled and Paggeot hit her home to put the Lakers up 7-0.
Allendale would add one run in the seventh, but it would be a short-lived rally, as the Lakers quickly put the game away and started their district championship celebration.
Hellman and Madelyn Nelson each finished with three hits, while Core and Alicia Mumby each had two.
Leah Vaughan picked up her second win of the day striking out nine in the championship game.
With the district championship, Spring Lake will advance to Saturday's regional semifinals at Hope College. The Lakers will meet regional rival Wayland Union at 11 a.m.
"Both Fruitport and Allendale never self-destructed today," said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. "Both coaches had their teams ready to play, they competed and they never broke. Sometimes, we can really wear teams down with our pressure and neither of those teams broke down today, so my hat is off to those two teams and their coaches.
"Leah was pretty special today. She had 10 strikeouts in the first game and eight or nine in the second. On top of that, a lot of her strikeouts were during key moments of the game, when the other team had a runner on third or they were starting to build some momentum."
For Spring Lake, a sturdy defense and a lineup with no holes in it creates a difficult challenge for the opposition.
"We feel like four (runs) is the magic number for us this year," said Core. We haven't given up more than four runs many times this year, so if we can build a four-run lead, we like our chances.
"We're really proud of our ability to win in all four phases. We have dominant pitching, pretty darn good defense and we hit through the lineup. Then we joke about being well-coached, so for someone to beat us, they'll have to do so by beating us at all of those phases. We might be down a time or two in one of those areas, but we are rarely going to be down in all of those areas."
With the pair of postseason victories, the Lakers set a new school record for wins in a season with a 38-0 mark this spring.
"Today brings us to win No. 38 on the season, which is a new school record," added Core. "That's pretty impressive to play 38 times in a season and not have a let down once. These girls have been pretty special."
For Vaughan, the break between the semifinals and finals played a huge factor in her ability to bring out her best performance in a long day from the pitching circle.
"I tried to just treat each game today like it was any other game on the schedule," she said. "I was fresh and ready to go for both of them. I think having that break between games really helped, because I got a chance to relax, eat and really refocus on the next game.
"At the beginning of the second game, I felt like I was throwing pretty fast and hitting all my spots. I thought I mixed up my pitches pretty well today, but I don't think I had one pitch, in particular, that was working especially well. Molly (Poole) was huge for me today. She frames so well that I got some strike calls that I wouldn't have normally gotten.
"I was worried about everyone I faced throughout those lineups because they are all good hitters. We've played both teams before, so I knew I wasn't going to surprise anybody. I really had to bring my A-game out there."
The chance to celebrate a district title in their final game at Wanrooy Field was a special moment for all the players in scarlet and gray.
"That was special to win at home," added Vaughan. "Everyone on the team really wanted this one, because we aren't going to have this same group of girls together on this field again, so we wanted to make sure we won today."