Belding’s Morgan Hill, the team’s No. 5 hitter, belted a three-run homer over the right-center field fence with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, propelling the Ladyskins into the Division 2 regional championship game, where they blanked Hudsonville Unity Christian by an identical 3-0 score.
“We assigned a player to watch every runner on base in the seventh inning,” Core joked. “But lightning is not going to strike twice.
“A lot of people didn’t believe we belonged here. We proved we’re a gutsy team. We battled, we dodged bullets, we made a lot of plays. We played hard to the end. I couldn’t be more proud of my team.”
The Lakers had no answer for Belding pitcher Kyleigh Linebaugh, who struck out 14 Spring Lake batters and allowed just one hit — an infield single by catcher Jessica Lewakowski in the top of the second inning.
Shelbie Robinson drew a walk to open the third inning but was later caught stealing. She was in the final Laker to reach base against Linebaugh, who kept Spring Lake off balance with her tremendous combination of speed and control.
“We didn’t want to strike out quite as often as we did, but her speed was tough, plus she works a little quicker and her control, she moves the ball around,” Core said. “Plus, she’s a great fielder, and we don’t have a lot of bunt-for-base-hit people. We’re not built for that.”
“She was pretty tough,” added Lakers’ pitcher Sam Weerstra. “She was just pretty fast. Her velocity, and she worked quickly. She might be the fastest pitcher we saw all year.”
Weerstra had to work herself out of countless jams on Saturday. Belding put a pair of runners on base in both the first and second innings, then loaded the bases with one out in the third. Weerstra struck out Mindy Reminga, then Hannah Linebaugh drilled a line drive to center field, where the Lakers’ Micanna Pelkey made a nice running catch to end the inning.
Pelkey’s catch was one of several clutch grabs by Lakers’ outfielders. Left fielder Shelbie Robinson snagged a line drive to end the inning in the second, and also tracked down a hard-hit ball to lead off the fifth.
Belding stranded single runners in both the fifth and sixth innings, then had its first batter reach safely in the seventh when leadoff hitter Kelsey Pollock reached on a bunt.
She was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, then Kyleigh Linebaugh drew a walk.
Weerstra looked like she might work herself out of another jam when she coaxed Jessie Holyfield into a groundout, but with two on and two out, Hill came to the plate and gave her team the boost it needed with a long drive that easily cleared the fence.
Weerstra said she was confident she’d get out of the seventh.
“I was just like, ‘Let’s get this out,’ and she hit a homer,” Weerstra said. “It was a pretty stressful day. My team came to play. My goal was to throw strikes and let my team play defense. They did all they could.”