Hudsonville, Lake Orion Bats Heat Up to Set Up Saturday Title Decider

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

June 13, 2024

EAST LANSING – Thursday’s second Division 1 Semifinal started as a classic pitching duel between the top-two ranked teams.

That was until Hudsonville showcased its potent offense.

The No. 2 Eagles erupted for seven runs in the fifth inning en route to a 10-0 win in six over top-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy at Secchia Stadium.

Hudsonville (41-0) remained unbeaten and will meet Lake Orion in Saturday’s 10 a.m. Division 1 Final. The Eagles are seeking their first Finals championship since 2012.

Lake Orion rallied to defeat South Lyon, 5-4, in the first Semifinal.

“We knew going in that she was a very good pitcher and we would need to have someone run into (it) and win 1-0,” Eagles coach Tom Vruggink said of Mercy ace Kaitlyn Pallozzi, who entered this week with a 0.44 ERA this season and has been nearly unbeatable over her first three seasons. “That’s what we were playing for, but once the floodgates opened, it just opened up. We’ll take it; it was awesome.”

Pallozzi held the Eagles hitless and recorded eight strikeouts before running into trouble in the fifth inning. Hudsonville snapped the scoreless game, thanks in part to a couple Mercy miscues and a string of clutch hits.

Lauren Luchies reached on an infield pop fly that Mercy lost in the sun. She advanced to second on a wild pitch and then scored on a Mercy throwing error. 

Later in the inning, sophomore Tessa Heffelbower walloped a long shot off the wall that resulted in a bases-clearing triple and 4-0 lead.

“I haven’t had a big hit like that before,” Heffelbower said. “I knew it was deep enough to score one run, but didn’t realize how far it actually went. I think we realized after we scored those four runs that she was hittable, and we kept it rolling.”

Ava Gardner followed with a RBI double off the wall, and then Autumn Dennis slapped an RBI single to left field. Luchies’ RBI double completed the inning.

Heffelbower added a two-out RBI double, and senior Elly Koopman slugged a two-run home run in the sixth inning.

“We were at the top of the order, which is where we love to live, and that's where we eat,” Vruggink said. “Megan Beemer walked, Heffelbower hit the triple, and all of a sudden we’re up 4-0.

“We have three or four kids that totally love fast pitching, and they just thrive on fast pitching.”

Koopman had a no-hitter going until giving up a two-out single in the final inning. 

She was thrilled to see the bats break out and give her a cushion.

“That was so amazing because then there’s not as much pressure on me and my defense,” Koopman said. “We can just play freely and do our thing.

“For us, this is really special because we tried to make this run two years ago and got this close and lost. This year it’s just meant to be, and we’re taking it one game at a time.”

The Marlins (38-2) couldn’t recover from the fifth-inning barrage by the Eagles and lost for only the second time all season. They had reached the Semifinals with three consecutive shutouts.

“We didn’t move on the ball, we got a little rattled and weren’t able to come out of that,” Mercy coach Corey Burras said. “It was compounded errors, and that affected our confidence. It’s unfortunate, but part of the game. 

“It was one or two bad innings out of maybe 250 (innings). Keep it in perspective. We have a very powerful team, but we didn't click today. We made good contact, but their pitcher pitched great and it just didn't happen. Kudos to them.”

Click for the full box score.

Lake Orion 5, South Lyon 4

Lake Orion is headed to its first Final after upsetting third-ranked South Lyon. The Dragons (38-5) took advantage of a key injury to South Lyon ace Ava Bradshaw to rally from an early 4-0 deficit.

Bradshaw, who’s headed to Duke, reaggravated a prior knee injury in the top of the second inning after smacking a three-run homer.

She returned to the mound in the bottom of the frame, but faced only two batters before departing.

Lake Orion’s Anna Gardner makes a throw to first base during her team’s victory.“Obviously we knew we were going to be facing slower pitching,” Lake Orion senior Grace Luby said. “All of us were like, ‘We just have to capitalize on this moment. We have to do the best of our abilities to score these runs.’  We did it, we scored five runs, and it was a great feeling.

“This team is amazing, and the girls work hard in the offseason and during the season. Our coaches do everything for us, and our hard work paid off.” 

Lake Orion loaded the bases in the second inning and scored a pair of runs on RBI singles by Madison Eckert and Addy Dukas to trim the South Lyon lead to 4-2. Sydney Bell’s sacrifice fly made it 4-3.

Lake Orion grabbed the lead in the bottom of the third inning. A leadoff double from Luby, and then a pair of sacrifice flies from Anna Gardner and Alexis Hazen gave the Dragons a 5-4 edge.

Junior pitcher Rylee Limberger settled down after the second inning and limited the Lions to no runs and two hits the rest of the way. 

“We played really good defense, that’s our signature, and our pitching was solid,” Lake Orion coach Joe Woityra said. “I think we would've gotten to her (Bradshaw) a little, but being down four runs is tough.

“I knew we would have chipped away and played 21 outs and would not have quit, but we took advantage of the situation right away.” 

Bradshaw helped South Lyon (33-7-1) win the 2021 Final as a freshman, and was hoping to close her career with a chance to win another.

The Lions had recorded four shutouts over their last five games.

“I was really happy that it was a 4-0 game, and I knew that our pitcher could come in and pitch to contact and get a lot of outs,” South Lyon coach Dave Langlois said. “It was a matter of how we responded and how Lake Orion responded, and to their credit, they came in, saw that opportunity, and pounced on it.

“On the flip side, I’m very proud that this wasn't a 12-4 situation. We had a chance to stay in the game all seven innings.”

Lake Orion played in the Semifinals for the second straight year after losing to eventual champion Hartland a year ago.

Dukus, Eckert and Ellie Britt each had two hits for the Dragons.

“We preach win the little battles, and that’s what we’re doing and have been doing all year,” Woityra said. “One more battle.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Hudsonville’s Lauren Luchies yells to her teammates after reaching third base during Thursday’s Division 1 Semifinal win. (Middle) Lake Orion’s Anna Gardner makes a throw to first base during her team’s victory.