Unbeaten Spring Lake Eyes Perfect Finish

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

June 7, 2018

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

It didn’t matter if it was driving rain, scorching heat, prom day, snowflakes, seven-game weeks, high winds, AP testing time or even a high-stakes showdown with archrival Grand Haven in the annual “Battle of the Bridge” at the end of May.

This Spring Lake girls softball team found a way to win – every game, 38 in a row and counting, to be exact.

Spring Lake coach Bill Core says that incredible consistency is what sets this team apart from any other in his 29 years at the helm.

“This is the most incredibly focused team I’ve ever had,” said Core, who hit the lofty 600-win mark for his coaching career last month. “They pay attention to detail. I think they’re on a mission.”

No. 2-ranked Spring Lake (38-0) puts its perfect season on the line against No. 6 Wayland in Saturday’s 11 a.m. opener in the MHSAA Division 2 Regional Tournament at Hope College in Holland.

The winner of that showdown will face the Comstock Park vs. Holland Christian winner in Saturday’s 3 p.m. Regional championship game.

The Lakers are led by junior ace Leah Vaughan, who sports a perfect 26-0 record, with a miniscule 0.83 ERA and 219 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched. Vaughan was sharp in Saturday’s competitive home District, striking out 10 in a 7-2 victory over neighboring rival Fruitport and then whiffing nine in a 7-1 win over Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue foe Allendale.

While Vaughan is expected to carry the load the rest of the way, Spring Lake also has a solid No. 2 pitcher in senior Lauren Somers, who has a 12-0 record and 2.41 ERA in 61 innings pitched.

On the offensive side, Spring Lake puts pressure on opponents with hitting threats throughout the lineup.

Madelyn Nelson, a senior shortstop, leads the team with a gaudy .636 batting average, 82 hits and 33 stolen bases in 33 attempts. While she certainly has college-level softball skills, Nelson will play golf at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Nelson was part of three straight Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship golf teams for Spring Lake from 2014 to 2016.

Vaughan also does her part at the plate, batting .532 with a team-high 63 RBI. Other top hitters are a pair of senior returning all-staters in second baseman Linsey Paggeot (.484 with 57 RBI) and centerfielder Lauren Hellman (.477 with 17 stolen bases in 18 attempts).

The biggest long-ball threat is junior outfielder Jenna Core, the oldest of Coach Core’s three children (and only girl), who has 10 home runs and 45 RBI. She already holds the school record with 24 home runs over her three-year varsity career, with one more season to go. Core and his wife, Tracy, also have two boys coming up in the Spring Lake system – Jackson, in 8th grade, and Jaden, 5th grade.

“Our lineup from 1 to 9 is pretty solid,” said the 55-year-old Bill Core. “That allows us to have more big innings. If you have a few good batters, you might score two or three runs, but we can keep it rolling and score six or seven.”

Spring Lake has had plenty of big innings this year, outscoring its opponents by a 424-54 margin.

The other starters for the team include junior catcher and No. 5 batter Molly Poole (.358 with 43 RBI), freshman third baseman Alicia Mumby (.410 with three home runs) and senior outfielder Kileah Rymal (.308).

At the “core” of the Lakers’ softball success is Coach Core, the oldest of four boys who grew up in a sports-crazy family in the sports-crazy town of Traverse City.

Core, now 55, played quarterback for legendary Traverse City coach Jim Ooley and was the first starting quarterback for the West team in the inaugural East-West Michigan High School All-Star Football Game in 1981.

He went on to play one year of football and four years of basketball and baseball at Alma College.

Core, who is assisted by Sarah Bulthuis and Kolbey Nelson, has turned Spring Lake into a regional power in both boys basketball and softball. Now that those programs have stocked several trophy cases with conference, District and Regional hardware, the new goal is to take the next step and get the Lakers to the “Final Four” at Michigan State University.

The Lakers’ basketball team came tantalizingly close in 2017, losing a 46-44 heartbreaker to Benton Harbor in the Class B Quarterfinals. The softball team, which has now won four consecutive District championships and 12 of the past 16 conference titles, broke through last spring with the school’s first-ever Regional championship. Spring Lake’s run was then ended in the Quarterfinals by Stevensville-Lakeshore, 6-1.

If the Lakers are able to win two more games Saturday and improve to 40-0, there is a good chance they could get a Quarterfinal rematch back at Hope College on June 12 with top-ranked Stevensville-Lakeshore.

Core said that season-ending loss last June has motivated this year’s team every day.

“We returned eight starters from last year’s team, so they know how to win and they also learned what they need to do better,” explained Core. “This is the real test now. Now we’ll be in those 2-1 and 3-2 games and, hopefully, that experience will pay off for us.”

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) Spring Lake coach Bill Core huddles with his team during a game this season. (Middle) Pitcher Leah Vaughan begins her approach toward the plate. (Photos courtesy of the Spring Lake softball program.)

Grass Lake Slugger Turner Writing Name All Over MHSAA Record Book

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)