The Lakers and Trojans each feature talented rosters and each could contend for championships in the Lakes Eight Conference and in the Division 2 district tournament in June.
At Fruitport, head coach Bob Dorman has seven returning seniors that helped keep the Trojans in contention for a league title until the final week of the season, as Fremont eventually clinched. Unfortunately, the Trojans’ postseason run was cut short as they were upset by Coopersville in pre-district action.
“We’ve got talent and experience and as a coach, it’s a dream to have those traits,” said Dorman, who is entering his fourth season at Fruitport’s head coach. “I feel sorry for our underclassmen, but they knew coming in that playing time would likely be hard to come by.
“All of these seniors were here when we won districts (two years ago),” Dorman added. “They feel this is their year. They know the talent we have.”
If Fruitport is to reach its lofty goals, the Trojans will need senior pitcher Bari Lee to pitch more like her sophomore season than her junior campaign. Two years ago, the fireballer was dominant, but she struggled at times with her control as a junior. As a result, Fruitport suffered several close losses. It turns out Lee had an excuse for her dip in production.
“After the season, I was on the phone with her mom, and she said Bari had (mononucleosis) the whole season. She didn’t say anything, because she didn’t want to miss any time.
“I’ve challenged her this season to get back to the pitcher she was her sophomore year,” Dorman added. “She’s such a competitor and now that she’s healthy, I believe we’ll see that.”
Dorman is also excited for big senior seasons from Amber Carmean, who will start at shortstop and thrives as a clutch hitter; Betsy Clendenon, the Trojans’ starting second baseman who has improved by playing a lot of travel softball; Lindsey Slocum, a defensive wiz at first base and an extremely fast base runner; center fielder Alex Brando, who hopes to walk-on and play softball at Central Michigan University; Taylor Tejchma, a tall, rangy right fielder who possesses a powerful hitting stroke; and Carissa Paulsen, a versatile player who is the Trojans’ No. 2 pitcher and can also play outfield and first.
As talented as that group may be this season, Dorman said a junior — Morgan Glover, a transfer from Muskegon Catholic Central — could outshine them all.
“We got her penciled in to bat No. 3, and she can flat-out bring it at the plate,” Dorman said. “She’s a girl that just lives for softball. She played travel ball all summer and worked on her game all winter, too.”
Other key contributors for the Trojans will be junior Amanda Benson, who moved from center to left field and has worked hard on improving her hitting; and sophomore catcher Lindsey Helsen, who batted over .350 on varsity a year ago as a freshman.
Dorman said defending league champion Fremont will be competitive again thanks to return standout pitcher McKenze Supernaw.
Of course, the Trojans’ rivals from Spring Lake will also be in the mix under the guidance of Bill Core, who is entering his 23rd season of coaching.
The Lakers were just 17-17 overall last spring but came alive at the right time and won a district championship. More wins could be in store for the Lakers thanks to the return of senior first baseman Evie Lorimer, who has committed to play softball at Central Michigan University. Lorimer’s a game-changer because of her speed. She stole 50 bases last season and also tallied 16 triples – the second-most in MHSAA history. Not to be outdone, she can hit for average (.435 last season) and scored 53 runs.
Core said it didn’t take him long to realize that amount of talent Lorimer possessed.
“It was her freshman year right at the end, and we moved her up for districts, and she practiced with us for a week, and in that district game, we batted her fourth,” Core said. “That’s how much she impressed us with one week of practice.”
Core said he’ll nominate Lorimer as a Miss Softball candidate this season – an award honoring the best senior player in the state.
Adding some more pop to the Lakers’ lineup is senior catcher Jessica Lewakowski, who hit .310 a year ago. She also threw out 47 percent of would-be base stealers.
Inexperience in the pitching circle could be the difference between contender and pretender for the Lakers. Sophomore Ashley Keena – who saw action on varsity as a freshman – will get an opportunity to log a lot of innings, while seniors Cassie Appel and Alyssa Henderson are other candidates.
“I’m waiting to see who steps up,” Core said.
The Lakers will also need more players to establish themselves offensively, especially if opponents decide to pitch around Lorimer. Returning starters who could provide a spark in the lineup include senior shortstop Emma Kendro and starting outfielder Shelbie Robinson.
Core also expects senior Skylar Bench to earn a starting spot at either second base or in the outfield.
Newcomer Mikaela Ederer has a chance to start at either third or in the outfield, while junior Emily Blahnik is a good hitter who will see action in the infield. Players who look to break into the outfield rotation for the Lakers include junior Lizzie Goll, junior Rylie Leete, senior Sara Patton, and German exchange student Laura Clausen.
BUCS STILL IN REBUILDING MODE
J.R. Serna recalled a play recently during his team’s Spring Break trip to Orange Beach, Ala., that put a smile on his face.
In a close play at the plate during a team practice in the ideal sunny weather, freshmen Katelyn Messer collided with fellow freshmen catcher Cheyenne Ray and both players were down and out on the dirt for a few seconds.
“They both popped back up and right there, it just kind of hit you,” Serna said. “Hey, the future is right there in front of your eyes. You’ve got these girls who could be the turning point to this program down the road.”
The turning point hasn’t transpired for Serna yet as the Bucs’ head coach hinted that this season may be another struggle. But an improved focus on developing talent in the youth ranks in Grand Haven has Serna believing he can turn around the varsity program sooner rather than later.
This spring, however, Grand Haven has just three seniors on its roster, which is matched by its number of freshmen. That inexperience may create some tough times in the brutally-tough O-K Red Conference, which feature powerhouses Hudsonville and Grandville, as well as emerging West Ottawa.
If Grand Haven can’t muster a winning record in its non-conference slate, the Bucs will need big seasons from players such as center fielder Kelsey DuShane, and left fielder Carly Grimes — who are both seniors.
The third senior, Franchesca Porath, is a first-time starter at catcher, but Serna said she swings a solid bat.
Promising underclassmen for the Bucs include junior Emily Shaler, whose older sister Laura played at Grand Haven and Muskegon Community College.
“I’m expecting a really good season from Emily,” Serna said. “She put a lot of work in during the off-season and has made great strides in hitting.”
Junior Abby Styck was called up to varsity as a sophomore last year and will be the Bucs’ No. 1 pitcher this season. Backing up Styck is Rockford transfer Rachel Morrow, a freshman. Serna said Morrow has pitched quite a bit in travel softball in the summer.
Junior Haley Vandenberg was limited last season due to arm trouble, but could be in store for a solid season at second base this spring. Fellow junior Alyssa Whitman surprised coaches with her skills during tryouts, considering she never played the sport at the high school level before.
“She’s got a lot of athleticism and good speed,” Serna said. “Really, she came out of nowhere. Our coaches were looking at each other like, ‘Who is this girl?’
Although she’s just a freshman, Serna said Messer is already one of the best athletes on the Bucs’ squad and could have a very bright future. She’ll start at shortstop this spring. Ray will play right field primarily but will also serve as back-up catcher.
Serna said he’s hoping to reach at least 12-15 wins outside of conference and have the Bucs primed for a run at a district championship.
FIRST-YEAR COACH LEADING WMC
Western Michigan Christian softball has a good mix of seniors and underclassman with five seniors leading the way.
First-year coach Jeff Nestell said returning senior pitcher Nicole Teeter has improved her game during the off-season and looks to build on a solid junior year from the mound.
Other returning seniors include Johanna Boeve, Cassie Visger, Kassidy Arkema and Sarah Nestell, who are very solid defensively and also bring smart base running to the base paths.
“Junior Anna Zeerip is a quality all-around player who I will be able to use in a lot of different situations,” coach Nestell said. “Sophomores are led by Anna
Sweetman, Lorelle Hallenbeck and Ariana Brondyke, who bring a fierce competitiveness to the team that everyone feeds off of.”