The runs never counted, however, thanks to the keen eye of Spring Lake coach Bill Core.
Core said he noticed Vanderwal miss touching first base on her trot towards home.
“Anytime there’s a home run, I watch the base runner just for that reason, and (Vanderwall) clearly missed on the inside of the bag,” Core said. “Right away I looked at the base umpire and I pointed right at first base. He told me to wait to make an appeal until she touched home, and when she did, I went to the home plate umpire, said I’m appealing that she missed first base, and the base ump agreed and ruled she was out.”
There was brief confusion on whether Orchard View’s tying run should have counted, but after the umpires consulted the rule book for several minutes, Spring Lake was awarded the 5-4 victory.
Because Vanderwal technically never reached first base, the umpires ruled that OV base runner Emily Peake also could not advance from third base.
Spring Lake (17-16 overall) advances to Saturday’s Division 2 regional at Hope College where it will face Belding. Hudsonville Unity Christian and Wyoming Rogers will battle in the other regional semifinal.
Weerstra said the conclusion of the contest was surreal.
“When I saw (Vanderwal’s home run) go over the fence, my first emotion was tears. I was hearbroken,” she said. “But I told myself to keep your head up. It’s not over. We still got one batter to go. And then Mr. Core, who’s awesome and knows the rules extremely well, made the appeal, and all of a sudden, it was back to crying again, but for a happy reason.”
The final ruling sparked initial outrage from Orchard View, including head coach Jeff Chaffee and athletic director Ken Overla, who criticized Core for making the appeal.
“It’s unfortunate that the last play my two seniors are going to remember from their final game is that play,” Chaffee said. “I’m disappointed that Bill felt the need to win that way.”
Core said he could understand Orchard View’s disappointment.
“I can’t even imagine what (the Cardinals) are going through right now,” Core said. “I feel terrible for them. I know they’ve been close to a district title a number of times and they really wanted this one.
“On the flip side, I feel it’s my job as coach. And as quickly as (the base umpire) made the call, it must have been obvious. We made eye contact right away, and it was like ‘were you watching the same thing I just saw?’”
Spring Lake jumped out of the gates quickly on Vanderwall, despite her previous success against the Lakers earlier this season.
“She struck out 17 against us earlier this year,” Core said, “but we also hit her pretty well in the second game of the doubleheader and Jeff was forced to take her out. He said we were one of a few teams that really got to her this year.”
Micanna Pelkey got the Lakers rolling in the bottom of the first, with an inside-the-park home run that also scored Evie Lorimer.
“We knew her first pitch was always right down the middle,” Pelkey said. “So I just tried to make contact and that’s about it.”
Weerstra also singled and scored in the inning.
Spring Lake struck again with two more runs in the third, again thanks to Pelkey’s double and run. Rachael Adams also scored in the inning, giving the Lakers’ a 5-1 advantage.
OV began to chip away with a run in the fifth and a big four-hit, two-run inning in the sixth.
Weerstra allowed five hits and also struck out five.
“I’m so proud of this team. Nobody here at the beginning of the year believed we could do this well, but we came together,” Weerstra said, who missed several weeks of the season with an ankle injury. “We showed everyone what this team is capable of.”
Spring Lake defeated Whitehall in the semifinals, 7-2.