Muskegon Oakridge Surging Again, but with Switch to Heavy-Hitting Style

By Tom Kendra
Special for

May 5, 2022

Don’t expect much “small ball” from the Muskegon Oakridge softball team.

While veteran Oakridge coach Joe Coletta has fielded speedy teams in the past that terrorized opponents with stolen bases and bunting, this year’s edition manufactures runs the old-fashioned way – by swinging for the fences.

“We don’t have any girls at the top of the order that are going to steal bases – I’ll just let everybody know that,” said Coletta with a smile, after his team improved to 13-0 on Wednesday with two come-from-behind wins over visiting West Michigan Conference rival Ravenna, which also entered the showdown unbeaten.

“We’re not a speed team; we’re a long-ball hitting team. We have to be patient at times, but the long ball can change the game in a hurry.”

It certainly took some patience Wednesday, as Ravenna junior ace Emma Gillard baffled the Eagles early with her changeup, leading many in the crowd to wonder if they were witnessing a changing of the guard in WMC softball.

Then came the fifth inning.

The Oakridge “Smash Sisters” went to work and scored 11 runs, turning a scary 5-0 deficit into a comfortable 11-5 lead. The Eagles did it with not one, not two, but three over-the-fence home runs in that pivotal inning.

The lead basher for the Eagles is senior second baseman Jasmine “JJ” Pastor, who struck out in her first two at-bats Wednesday before getting her team on the board in that big inning with a two-run homer over the left-centerfield fence.

“I knew what happened the first two at-bats, and I knew it was time for me to step up,” said Pastor, a Muskegon Community College commit who is batting .444 with a team-high six home runs and nine doubles.

Pastor’s shot opened the floodgates, with the biggest hit of all coming from junior catcher Andrea Romero-Serrano (who bats sixth in the lineup), who belted a grand slam to give the Eagles a 6-5 lead. The final long ball of the inning came from sophomore first baseman Madison Clark, a lefty who pulled one over the rightfield fence for her team’s final runs in an 11-6 win.

The Eagles’ power is not contained to the top of the batting order, either, as eight of the nine starters have hit out-of-the-park home runs this spring.

Oakridge, which is ranked No. 7 in Division 2, had to rally again in second game, falling behind 6-3 heading into the sixth inning.

That was when the bottom of the Eagles’ batting order sparked another rally. Freshman Brenna Cabrera and sophomores Ahria Doornbos and Mallori Whipple all singled, leaving the bases loaded for Pastor.

Muskegon Oakridge softballAfter swinging wildly at a pair of lethal changeups from Ravenna freshman Addison Gillard, Pastor was ready for the third off-speed pitch, waiting on it perfectly and smashing a game-changing grand slam. Oakridge would add a pair of insurance runs in the top of the seventh for a 9-6 win.

Kaelinn Jozsa, a sophomore shortstop, leads Oakridge with a .600 batting average and three home runs. Other leading hitters are senior Brooklyn Galdeen (.467, two home runs), Clark (.412, two home runs) and senior centerfielder Delaney Ruel (.410).

Galdeen is the Eagles’ ace pitcher, with seven wins. Josza has five wins, and freshman Kylee Willea earned a gutty win in her first start of the season in Wednesday’s nightcap against Ravenna.

Oakridge now has a leg up as it seeks its sixth-straight WMC title. The Eagles have been the premier softball program in the Muskegon area over the past decade, winning seven District titles under Coletta. The highlight was a four-year stretch from 2016 to 2019, when the Eagles won 30 or more games each season.

Coletta said that Pastor, one of three seniors in the Oakridge starting lineup along with Galdeen and Ruel, was more vocal than he’s ever seen her at practice leading up to Wednesday’s showdown. Pastor said she was motivated by last year’s matchup with Ravenna, when the Bulldogs snapped the Eagles’ incredible 65-game conference winning streak in a doubleheader split, leading to a shared league championship.

“It’s just great competition between us and always back-and-forth,” said Pastor, whose father, Red Pastor, has coached her for many years in travel softball and is the Eagles’ longtime assistant coach. “Knowing that we have Ravenna right there, coming after us, pushes us even more.”

The two teams are likely to square off again in Saturday’s Greater Muskegon Athletic Association County Tournament, where Ravenna (16-2) will certainly be out for revenge.

One of the nice aspects of the budding softball rivalry between the two neighboring school districts is that they will go their separate ways in the postseason, with Oakridge in Division 2 and Ravenna in Division 3.

For Coletta, a three-sport athlete at Ravenna who has now won 280 games in 14 years as the Oakridge softball coach, the softball diamond is just the latest stage for one of the state’s best prep rivalries - which has been part of his life since he was a little kid.

Coletta served as the longtime offensive coordinator at Oakridge under Jack Schugars, the winningest football coach in Muskegon-area history. The Oakridge-Ravenna football rivalry ran red-hot during those years, particularly a 15-year stretch from 1994 to 2008, when the Bulldogs won four state titles and the Eagles won three.

“When I came over here to coach football, the rivalry was very intense,” said Coletta, who returned as softball coach this spring after stepping down in 2019. “I really enjoyed that rivalry, and now it’s going to be just like that for a while in softball – we both have some great young players. If you’re a competitor, this is exactly what you want.”

Tom 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) Muskegon Oakridge senior second baseman Jasmine Pastor connects at the plate. Pastor is batting .444 this season with eight home runs and nine doubles for the Eagles, who are 13-0 and ranked No. 7 in Division 2. (Middle) Head coach Joe Coletta, left, and assistant Red Pastor have built the Oakridge softball program into one of the best in West Michigan. (Photos by Sherry Wahr.)

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.)