By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
OTTAWA LAKE – You could call Lindsey Walker a 10th-year senior for the Ottawa Lake Whiteford softball team.
Walker is one of seven seniors on a 20-3 Bobcats softball team that has climbed to No. 2 in the coaches association Division 4 rankings and is a win away from clinching its second Tri-County Conference title in three years.
The pitching ace began learning the finer points of fast-pitch softball from veteran Whiteford coach Kris Hubbard when she was in the second grade.
“I would come in the mornings for pitching lessons,” Walker said. “I’d show up before school, we’d go in the high school gym while she was coaching JV girls basketball. She’d walk back and forth and teach me how to pitch at the same time.
“She taught me the basics, how to warm up and some of the mechanics of pitching. It was all new to me then.”
With Hubbard’s help, Walker has blossomed into a star in the circle for the Bobcats. She’s already holds Whiteford career records for games pitched, decisions, innings-pitched and wins (82) and she’s within a couple starts of setting the Bobcats’ record for strikeouts. She’s also an outstanding hitter and has made a remarkable impact on Whiteford’s hitting record book, too. She is the Bobcats’ all-time leader in at bats, hits, doubles, RBI and home runs.
“She’s going to have a lot of records,” Hubbard said of the 5-foot-10 Walker. “She’s a good player.”
Besides pitching mornings for Coach Hubbard, Walker began playing travel softball at a young age. When she was still in elementary school, Hubbard invited her to be a manager for the varsity. It’s a time-tested method for Hubbard, who has coached the Bobcats for all 41 years of its softball existence. She brings on multiple managers to begin training them for the varsity squad at a young age. By the time they reach the varsity as a player, they are engrossed in the program, knowing the ins and outs of how things are done the Bobcat way.
Walker has been solid all four of her seasons in the circle, but there was a time when she considered giving up pitching.
“I was in the fifth grade, and I was about to give up pitching,” Walker said. “I couldn’t throw a strike. Everything was crazy. She just told me to keep going and that I would get my location, and my accuracy was going to come with time. She pushed me.”
Walker batted .429 as a freshman and hit .371 as a sophomore when Whiteford reached the Division 4 championship game. She hit .513 last year with eight home runs and 14 doubles. The Bobcats made it to the Quarterfinals. Although she won 15 games as a freshman pitcher, it was her sophomore year in which she showed her dominance – winning a school-record 29 times.
Walker recently committed to play in college at Ave Marie University in Florida. She wasn’t sure she wanted to pitch in college until just before this softball season began and she realized if she didn’t, this would be her final season of the sport.
“I just don’t want it to end,” she said. “I realize how much I would miss it.”
This season the Bobcats have steadily climbed up the state rankings as the senior-laden team looks to embark on yet another tournament run under Hubbard. The Whiteford coach already has announced this year will be her final one as the Bobcats’ head coach. She has more than 855 wins and three MHSAA Finals championships with six title game appearances during her career.
Senior Karsyn Berns-Moore leads the team with a .561 average and has six triples. Baylee Baldwin is hitting .455 with 36 runs scored, and Milly Iott is hitting .434 with 10 doubles and 27 RBI. Pinch-runner deluxe Anna VanBrandt has scored 35 times, one off the team lead, despite having just eight at-bats.
“You can do so much with speed,” Hubbard said.
In the circle, Walker is 15-3 with a 1.62 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 95 innings pitched. She’s also hitting .434 with six home runs and 36 RBI. Other seniors on the team include Madison Durden, Jessica Link and Katie Lipp. All seven seniors on the club’s roster are four-year regulars.
Hubbard credits the deep crew of assistant coaches for helping the Bobcats this season. That includes former Whiteford baseball coach Matt VanBrandt and his wife, Audra VanBrandt, a former Temperance-Bedford softball coach; ex-Whiteford volleyball coach Sandy Clark and the newest member of the Whiteford coaching staff, John Morningstar. Morningstar coached Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central to three straight Division 3 championships from 2015-2017 and became an assistant at Whiteford this year.
“It helps when you have so many former head coaches,” Hubbard said. “We are really hitting the ball this year.”
Hubbard said the seniors are still trying to get better.
“This whole senior class always wants to get better,” she said. “You usually don’t have that. Usually kids lose interest over the year. Even now, those seniors, when I send out a text saying what day I’m going to be at the school, my phone blows up. They know. They still want to get better. They’re not going through the motions. They are working on the batting tee or the catch net. They are driven, and they keep getting better. It’s nice.”
Walker said Hubbard never forgets to tell her players – and dugout full of managers – to have fun.
“She teaches you a lot about life and softball,” Walker said. “She lets you develop your own skills, but she pushes you. Some coaches just want to win. She always wants us to have fun first.”
Doug 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 DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s Lindsey Walker unloads a pitch this season. (Middle) Walker, a four-year varsity senior, will attempt to lead the Bobcats to their second Division 4 Final in three years. (Photos by Cari Hayes.)
Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.
She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.
See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:
Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.
Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.
A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.
Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.
Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.
Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.
Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.
A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.
PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.