Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

May 7, 2024

Bill and Julia Turner have not only put in a lot of miles on the road, but they’ve also put a lot of miles in on the softball field.

Greater DetroitBefore Olivia Turner was hitting the cover off the ball and becoming Michigan’s career RBI leader for the Grass Lake softball team, Bill and Julia were taking her to the field for batting practice.

“I always wanted to go to the field, and my dad would take me and my mom would shag balls in the outfield,” Olivia said. “They’ve spent countless hours, especially traveling around the country. They’ve been my biggest support system. They are awesome.”

Her Warriors teammates are grateful, too. Last week Turner became Michigan’s all-time leader in runs batted in, surpassing Taylor Light & Life Christian’s Kelly Kennedy, who held the record with 304 RBIs from 1991-94.

“It was crazy to think I beat a 30-year-old record,” Turner said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. I’m just super thankful.”

Having her name on the state record book for softball is nothing new to Turner. She barely missed the state mark for RBIs in a season last year when she had 102 and is the state’s all-time career doubles leader already.

Grass Lake head coach Roger Cook said Turner never talks about hitting home runs or driving in runs – just about being a teammate.

“I’m going to tell you, she’s one of the most modest people you’ll ever talk to,” Cook said. “She just talks team, team, team. She always has since I’ve known her. She has never said one thing about a home run or a base hit.”

Turner, who plays third base, has been around the Grass Lake program for a long time. When her sister Madeline was playing for the Warriors before heading off to play at Findlay University in Ohio, Olivia would tag along.

“I just wanted to be at the field, be around softball,” she said.

Turner first picked up the game when she was on an 8-and-under team.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records.She started as a pitcher, but quickly converted to infielder, where she has played with Grass Lake and various travel teams. She also plays volleyball and basketball for Grass Lake, but softball is her sport.

“We’re all one family,” she said. “I love that you get to play with girls that you may not be friends with at school. It shows you who you are. Softball gives you a lot of life lessons – dedication, teamwork, how to work with others.”

She loves to hit, too.

“Every at-bat, even if there is no one on base, I want to get on base,” she said. “I’m always going up to the plate doing it for my team, not for myself. The RBIs are pretty cool. My team gets on base for me. All of the girls are phenomenal.”

Cook said he sometimes gets worried that opponents will just pitch around Turner. But because of who is in the lineup in front of and behind her, he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“We have Rylee Fitzpatrick, Emily Brown, then Olivia,” Cook said. “After Olivia we have (junior) Bree Salts, who has committed to Central Michigan. It’s hard to pitch around her. When we get to some of these big games, teams will have to throw to her.”

Last year’s Division 3 runner-up Ottawa Lake Whiteford has faced Grass Lake multiple times over the past couple of seasons, and coach Matt VanBrandt is plenty familiar with the damage Turner can do.

"You'd better have a plan when you are pitching to her,” VanBrandt said. “She’s a dangerous hitter. She’s someone you need to think about before the game starts.”

Turner hit .714 last season with 30 doubles and those 102 runs batted in. For her career, she’s belted 48 home runs and knocked in 309 runs after Saturday’s tournament. She’s never hit below .535 for a season and is nearing 100 career doubles.

Grass Lake currently is 22-1 and leading the Cascades Conference.

“It’s crazy to think I am actually a senior now,” Turner said. “Now that it is my senior year, I just want to work hard and play for my team. We’ve had great seniors the last couple of years. It’s crazy to think this is my last season.”

Turner will attend Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. She chose Bradley because of its nursing program.

“Academics has always been first for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the campus. It’s not too big or too small. The staff there is great.”

Before taking her swing to college, Grass Lake wants to make a deep tournament run this season. And the more games the Warriors play, the more RBIs Turner is likely to add to her record.

“Olivia has one of the smoothest, most beautiful swings I’ve ever seen,” Cook said. “She’s one of the girls you want up there at bat with the game on the line. She can do it all. If you need a single, she’ll get you a single. If you need a walk-off, she can do that, too.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grass Lake’s Olivia Turner focuses on a pitch coming her way. (Middle) Turner will graduate this spring with multiple MHSAA records. (Photos courtesy of Pictures by Marisa and the Grass Lake softball program.)

'No Superstars' Reeths-Puffer Undefeated, County Tournament Favorite Entering May

By Tom Kendra
Special for

May 1, 2024

Natalie Kunnen is in her fourth year as a varsity softball player for Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, but she has never experienced anything remotely close to this team’s vibe.

West MichiganNot only are the Rockets unbeaten at 20-0-1, but no deficit seems too big to overcome.

Puffer rallied to beat Holton and later scratched out a tie with Allendale, then last week pulled a rabbit out of their hat twice in one night – coming back from a four-run deficit in the opener and a nine-run deficit in the nightcap in an improbable sweep at powerhouse Muskegon Oakridge.

“I walked out of Oakridge just stunned and asking myself, ‘Who are we?’” said Kunnen, who swings one of the biggest bats in the lineup with three home runs and 22 RBIs. “There is a completely different feel this year.”

Who are these Rockets?

They remained a rare unbeaten more than one month into the season after a sweep of host Grand Rapids Union on Tuesday, setting the stage for a doubleheader tonight at state power Hudsonville, followed by Saturday’s Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tier 1 tournament – where the Rockets are both the host and the No. 1 seed.

They are a team devoid of a superstar, but also without a weak link.

Rockets coach Sarah Bayle has guided her team to an 18-0-1 start, with many of the wins coming in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion. “We don’t have an easy out in our lineup, 1 through 9, and that is something that makes us unique,” said coach Sarah Bayle, 28, a 2013 Reeths-Puffer graduate who went on to play at Muskegon Community College and Ferris State.

“We have speed that we try to use to our advantage and three different pitchers who all bring something different.”

The Rockets adopted that “no superstars” mantra earlier this season after athletic director Cliff Sandee stopped by a practice and gave the huddled team an impromptu pep talk.

“He have us our motto: ‘It’s not who’s best on the team, it’s who’s best for the team,’” said junior pitcher and first baseman Mady Snyder. “We really believe that. We have a lot of grit. There is not one person on this team who gives up and says we’re done.”

Puffer sprints out of the gate behind the speedy trio of Kaylee Jones, Lainey McDaniel and Abbie Critchett at the top of the order – a threesome who have 61 of the team’s 90 stolen bases.

That trio sets the stage for the big bats of Snyder (three home runs and a team-best 26 RBIs), Kunnen, Megan Barnes and Kyleigh Bilek.

Puffer, which has outscored its opponents 216-53, is batting .406 as a team, with eight of the 13 players batting .400 or better. Leaders in that category are McDaniel at .558 and Snyder with .474.

The Rockets have played in only one tournament thus far, winning April 20 at Hamilton.

Bayle, who is officially in her fifth year as R-P’s coach but looks at it as her fourth year after COVID wiped out the 2020 season, said one of the turning points in the program came at the start of the 2021 campaign.

“We brought up four freshmen to the varsity, which is something that just wasn’t done much here,” said Bayle, who is assisted on the varsity by Kat Hyder, Sydney Recknagel, Scott Huebler and Chris Bilek. “That sparked a new reality. It doesn’t matter what year you are, you can’t slack off or someone could take your place.”

McDaniel slides safely into second base during a game against Allendale.Those four freshmen are now the team’s only four seniors – Kunnen, Jones, Barnes and Emme Buzzell.

The closest thing to a star for the Rockets this spring has been McDaniel, a crafty left-handed pitcher who has a 0.85 ERA in 41 innings of work. Her improvement from freshman year to this spring as a sophomore has been remarkable, Bayle said, and a big reason for the remarkable start.

McDaniel and Jersi Bilek are the sophomores on the varsity roster, which also includes freshman Tessa Ross. The future looks bright as R-P also boasts an unbeaten junior varsity team, coached by Cody Jacobs.

Bayle, who is seven months pregnant with her second child, knows that much tougher challenges lie ahead, starting with Wednesday’s showdown at Hudsonville (a team which she believes R-P has never beaten in softball).

One of the team’s biggest goals this spring is to win this Saturday’s county tournament and then the Division 1 District, two tournaments which haven’t been kind to the Rockets in recent years.

This year, Puffer goes into the county tournament as the heavy favorite in its pool, with big wins over fellow Pool 1 teams Muskegon Mona Shores and Holton. Should they emerge from that group, the Rockets would likely face revenge-minded Oakridge or two-time reigning county champion Ravenna.

“We haven’t done good in the county, and haven’t made the finals in the past three years,” said Kunnen. “We’ve been really young, but this year we have a lot of juniors and seniors and a lot of leadership.

“I can’t even tell you how amazing it would be to win it my senior year.”

Tom KendraTom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Madi Snyder delivers a pitch for the Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, which has been led by the 1-2 pitching duo of Snyder and Lainey McDaniel. (Middle) Rockets coach Sarah Bayle has guided her team to an 18-0-1 start, with many of the wins coming in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion. (Below) McDaniel slides safely into second base during a game against Allendale. (Photos by Joe Lane.)