Lakeshore Full Strength, in Hunt Again

By Wes Morgan
Special for

June 9, 2017

Still competitive and well coached, the Stevensville Lakeshore 2016 varsity softball season had the air sucked out of it shortly after it began. In early April, the Lancers lost their ace and their best glove to injury.

Shortstop Lindsay Zavoral, now a senior, tore an anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the year. Top pitcher Taylor Simon’s nagging back problems — the result of a slipped disc — finally forced her to tap out in search of remedy to end her sophomore campaign.

The Lancers failed to advance from Districts for a second straight season.

This season, however, is what Lancers fans have grown accustomed to under the longtime leadership of coach Denny Dock. Lakeshore (30-6-1) won the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference championship and defeated St. Joseph 6-0 in the Division 2 District Semifinal last weekend before topping South Haven 3-0 in the championship game. It was Dock’s 19th District title in his 28 years in charge of the program.

Some of the highlights from the District tourney included Sierra Ciesielski’s home run and two RBI, Zavoral’s pair of doubles and Simon’s complete-game shutout against the Bears. She allowed only three hits and struck out four. Simon threw another seven innings in the victory over South Haven, collecting eight strikeouts and giving up just two hits. Zovoral connected for three singles, and Ciesielski singled and tripled and finished with one run driven in.

Stevensville Lakeshore, which ended last season in the District semis, faces No. 4 Vicksburg on Saturday in the Regional Semifinals at Edwardsburg. Vicksburg put together a 16-2 record in the Wolverine Conference for a league title. The Bulldogs fell to Richmond 2-0 in the 2016 Division 2 championship game.

“That has certainly solidified our ball club,” Dock said of Zavoral and Simon returning this spring. “That’s kind of where we’re at right now. It’s not surprising to me at all (we’re back in the Regional tournament). I knew the caliber of kids those two were when we lost them. Getting them back put us in pretty good shape. (Zavoral) is an inspiration to the whole team.”

“It’s amazing to be back on the field this year,” Zavoral said. “After going through surgery, I didn’t realize how emotionally hard it would be not being able to finish the season with my team last year. It just gave me more motivation to work through the summer and get back even stronger this year.”

Simon has put together a phenomenal junior season – especially considering the No. 6-ranked Lancers’ tough schedule – with a 17-5-1 record and a 1.90 ERA in the circle. She started in a 0-0 tie in nine innings against Division 1 honorable mention Caledonia, and faced Mattawan, which is ranked No. 5 in Division 1, three times. She started four games against honorable mention Portage Central and picked up a win against Crown Point, which is headed to the Indiana Class 4A state finals.

“I realized how much I missed it,” Simon said of returning healthy this spring. “You want to be out there so bad.”

Simon has struck out 191 batters over 147 innings. She’s been pretty effective with a bat in her hand, too, entering this weekend with a .426 batting average and 40 RBI (second on the team in both categories).

“She has taken on the big dogs,” Dock said. “She is really a bulldog out there; I’ll tell you that. She throws a nice rise ball. I think the main thing she has been able to do is spot her pitches.”

The Lancers’ defense has been outstanding this season as junior Cassidy Zavoral has moved back to her natural position at third base after filling in at shortstop for her sister last year. Senior Olivia Freehling was an all-state selection (designated player) in 2016 and has staffed first base this year. Freehling, who also played golf and hockey, leads the squad with a .432 average and 43 RBI.

“Our defense has been really good this year,” Freehling said. “We’re a lot stronger having Lindsay back at shortstop. It makes a huge difference. We’re going into (Saturday) 100 percent confident.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.


PHOTOS: (Top) Stevensville Lakeshore shortstop Lindsay Zavoral receives the ball as a runner gets to second base during a game this season. (Middle) Taylor Simon prepares to unload a pitch against St. Joseph this spring. (Photos by Don Campbell/St. Joseph Herald-Palladium.)


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.)