Spring Lake’s varsity softball team took care of its end of the bargain on Tuesday in the Lakers’ attempt to capture a share of the Lakes Eight Conference title.
Then the Lakers had to sit back and wait for news to come in from rival Fruitport, and the news was good.
The Trojans split with league-leading Grant, which allowed the Lakers to celebrate a share of the Lakes Eight Conference championship. Both teams finished 9-3 in league games.
“The only time I cheer for Fruitport to win,” joked Spring Lake senior second baseman Emily Blahnik.
This marks the Lakers’ first league title since 2010. Prior to that, Spring Lake had won six league crowns in eight years.
“A year ago, our league was senior dominated, and everybody had great players,” said Core, who didn't find out about Fruitport's win over Grant until Wednesday morning. “But we were all hurt really badly by graduation, so I knew we had a chance.
“Two weeks ago, when we split with Grant, we lost our ability to control our own destiny, and we knew we’d have to rely on somebody else, so we crossed our fingers, and it sounds like it worked.”
Blahnik did her part in the sweep of Orchard View, producing a key double in the opener that sparked a six-run second-inning in the Lakers’ 9-5 win.
In Game 2, Spring Lake’s bats produced top-to-bottom against the Cardinals’ back-up pitcher, and Blahnik, who had missed several games with a broken thumb, continued her sweet stroke with two doubles, a walk and two runs scored in the Lakers’ 15-1 mercy-shortened win in five innings.
“She’s really locked in right now,” said Core, whose squad improves to 15-13.
Blahnik’s offensive output added to a special night, as she was one of three seniors honored by the team in between the doubleheader, along with Lizzie Goll and Mikaela Ederer.
Core presented flowers to his seniors and their mothers. For Blahnik, it meant that her parents, Brenda and Andy Blahnik, were a part of the ceremony on the field.
“They’ve been my motivation through it all,” Blahnik said. “They’ve encouraged me to always give it my all.”
Blahnik said her mom, who is in a wheelchair, continues to make tremendous strides from serious head and spinal cord injuries she suffered in a fall from an electric lift at the Spring Lake Aquatic Center in late 2011.
“She’s really doing well,” Emily said. “She’s going to physical therapy three times a week and is trying to get her legs stronger.”
Blahnik was taking her first at-bats for the Lakers since she broke the tip of her thumb after being struck by an inside pitch at a tournament at Grand Haven on May 11. She wasn’t the only addition to the Lakers’ lineup, as Core also recently brought up junior varsity players Randi Rice and Ashleigh Underwood. Rice made a big impact while hitting from the clean-up spot against the Cardinals, finishing the doubleheader with two doubles and a triple.
Rice’s triple came in the fifth inning in the opener, and she later scored on a wild pitch to give the Lakers an 8-5 cushion. The Lakers added another run on a wild pitch in the sixth, then held their breath as the Cardinals threatened in their last at-bats.
Spring Lake pitcher Ashley Keena walked the first two batters she faced, but then settled down by recording a strikeout and two weak pop outs to secure the win.
Keena didn’t have to sweat out any tense moments in the nightcap, as she allowed just two hits and struck out five.
She totaled 12 strikeouts in the doubleheader, and also produced with her bat with four hits.
The Lakers had a 5-1 lead after two innings, then exploded for nine runs on five hits and three Cardinals’ errors in the third.
Sophomore first baseman Kelsee Zuidema had four hits during the doubleheader, including three doubles.
Spring Lake will play a doubleheader at neighboring rival Grand Haven on Friday, beginning at 4:15 p.m. The Lakers’ primary focus — now that a share of the league title has been secured — is the district tournament.
“There’s no real dominant team this year, so it’s a case of ‘Why not us’? Core said.
“If we’re on top of our game, we can make a run (in the tournament),” Blahnik said. “We have to be prepared mentally, which will help in taking care of the physical mistakes.”
The Lakers will play in a pre-district next Tuesday against Coopersville at Fruitport High School.