Multiple Aces Pay Off as Comets Reign

June 15, 2013

By Bill Khan

Special to Second Half


BATTLE CREEK — Most softball teams ride one dominant pitcher and hope for the best.


It never hurts to have an insurance policy, however, because even the best pitchers have an off day.


Splitting the pitching duties between two girls all season paid off for Kalamazoo Christian on Saturday in a 16-6 victory over Ubly in the MHSAA Division 4 championship game at Bailey Park.


When Ubly’s first seven batters reached base in a six-run third inning, senior Stephanie VanderLugt was pulled in favor of junior Bekah VanDam.


It was hardly a desperate move for the top-ranked Comets.


VanDam didn’t allow a run in four innings, giving up three hits and striking out three.

Coming into the game, VanDam (15-3) pitched 114 2/3 innings in 20 games.


VanderLugt (18-4) pitched 127 1/3 innings in 22 games, starting every game after Districts.


“I went with Stephanie because it was one game at a time, and we went with her strengths over Bekah’s,” Kalamazoo Christian coach Karla Reno said. “I had to make a decision between the two. Bekah knew her job was to be ready to go in on relief if needed, and go in and throw hard and throw low. That’s exactly what she did.”


While both players are accustomed to pitching regularly, one rarely has to relieve the other. VanDam was playing third base when she got the call to enter the pitching circle.


“It’s unexpected, for sure, but I came in ready to go,” VanDam said. “My adrenaline was going. Normally either one of us is on; she struggled.”


If VanderLugt was upset about her pitching performance, she didn’t let it show when she came to the plate. She finished 2-for-3 with four RBI, including a two-run single that broke a 6-6 tie in the bottom of the third. She finished with a team-high 46 RBI.


“I knew Bekah could do it,” VanderLugt said. “I knew she’s tough.


“I had to get that out of my mind, because if that stayed with me, I never would’ve performed well. I had to suck it up for the team.”


Kalamazoo Christian pounced on Ubly, scoring six runs in the first inning. The Comets’ first six batters reached base.


That’s usually an insurmountable lead in championship softball, but Ubly stormed back with six runs in the third, tying the game on a two-run single by Hailey Kubacki. VanDam entered after Kubacki’s hit, retiring three in a row to end the inning.


“Nerves took over right away, and you could tell that,” Ubly coach Courtney Dekoski said. “The girls never lie down. I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of them.”


Kalamazoo Christian took the lead for good with three runs in the third inning. The Comets scored twice in the fifth and ended the game via the 10-run mercy rule with five in the sixth. A sacrifice fly by VanderLugt scored the final run.


Kalamazoo Christian’s run total is the second-most in an MHSAA Final and the 22 combined runs also rank second. Both marks were set in Byron’s 17-10 victory over Kalamazoo Christian in the 1976 Class C title game.


“It was crazy,” VanderLugt said. “They took advantage of what we did wrong, and we did the same for them. I give them a lot of credit for battling when we got up so early.”


Tori Sides was 3-for-5 and scored three runs for the Comets (33-7). Kara Gjeltema and McKena Razenberg were both 2-for-4 with two RBI.


Kubacki was 2-for-2 with two RBI for Ubly, which hadn’t won a Regional until this season.


Click for a full box score.


PHOTOS: (Top) A Kalamazoo Christian runner slides into third base during her team's 16-6 victory. (Middle) Comets hitter Bekah VanDam prepares to make contact with a pitch while teammate McKena Razenberg (4) warms up in the on-deck circle. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)