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.)
Evart was added to the MHSAA softball record book 23 times for achievements during an outstanding three-season run that has included a Division 3 runner-up finish in 2022.
Then-junior Katelyn Gostlin twice was included for hitting streaks, of 26 straight games during the 2022 season and 22 straight this past spring. She also was added for 23 doubles in 2022, and then-senior Addysen Gray was added for 16 doubles in 2023. Ally Theunick was added for 11 home runs this spring and 23 over her first three seasons with one more to play. Gostlin, Theunick and 2021 graduate Ryenn Baumgardner all were added for single-game accomplishments.
Among team record listings, Evart had 405 hits, 419 runs, 85 doubles, 35 home runs and 328 RBI over 39 games this spring. Gostlin has signed with Mid-Michigan College, and Gray is playing softball and basketball there this school year.
See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA softball record book:
Olivia Mikowski followed up her Maple City Glen Lake team’s Division 4 basketball championship in March with a national record this spring on the diamond. She tied the MHSAA and national records with 20 triples, over 35 games, among five record book entries she earned. She also is listed for 74 RBI this past season, while now-junior Jessie Pugh earned a listing with 66 runs scored over 37 games. Mikowski is continuing at Schoolcraft College.
Essexville Garber finished a combined 71-14 over the last two seasons and reached the Division 2 Semifinals in 2022 after winning its first Regional title since 1997, along the way achieving several record book performances for both team and individual lists. The Dukes hit 53 home runs over 41 games this past spring, tying for sixth most as senior Sarah Basket set a program record and made the individual list with 12. Basket also was added for 21 doubles in 2022, with Laney Kokaly making the doubles list that season with 16 and Ella Wagner making it was 16 this past season. Kortney Kotenko set the previous Garber home run record in 2022, making the record book list with 11. All four were seniors in 2023. Kotenko is continuing at Madonna, while Basket is playing at Lawrence Tech and Wagner at Northwood. Kokaly is playing volleyball at Northwood.
Three Rivers and now-senior Ava Forman made the single-season hits list with 75 over 41 games and the single-season doubles list for 22 last spring and also 18 over 40 games as a sophomore. Three Rivers as a team made the records for 423 hits, 101 doubles and 277 RBI over 42 games in 2023.
Armada’s Taylor Capozzo had 19 doubles in 2023 to make that single-season list, plus hit back-to-back home runs in a game against Yale, and Natalie Sauer drove in six runs in a game against Brown City. Capozzo is a sophomore this school year, and Sauer graduated in the spring and is continuing at St. Clair County Community College.
Schoolcraft’s Lauren Evans hit 31 doubles in 2023 as a junior, the second-most in MHSAA history, as the Eagles totaled 118 over 41 games – also the second-most doubles on the team list. Schoolcraft also made record lists for 436 hits and 316 RBI for the season and five home runs in a game against Battle Creek Pennfield (which included back-to-back homers by Evans). Teammate Sydney Drenth, then a sophomore, made the doubles list with 22, and senior Alayna Meade made the same list with 16. Meade is continuing at Cornerstone, and Evans has committed to sign with Saginaw Valley State.
Farmington Hills Mercy finished 29-1 in 2023, earning four record book entries along the way. The Marlins tied for second-fewest runs allowed, giving up only 16. They also made lists for 11 consecutive shutouts, 385 strikeouts and a .435 average and just missed the single-season shutouts list with 23.
Unionville-Sebewaing’s 2022 Division 4 championship season produced another series of record book-worthy accomplishments. As a team, USA set an MHSAA record with 128 doubles over 40 games and was fourth on the team RBI list with 391, while also earning entries with 44 runs scored, 485 hits and 48 home runs. Individually, then-sophomore Gabriella Crumm was added for 80 hits, 21 doubles and 11 home runs, and then-senior Laci Harris was added for 11 home runs as well plus 72 hits, 19 doubles and career totals of 31 home runs, 170 RBI, 170 runs scored and 51 doubles over 123 games despite her sophomore season of 2020 being canceled due to COVID-19. Then-junior Oliva Jubar was added for 18 doubles, and then-sophomore Ella Neumann was added for 17. Harris is continuing her career at Madonna.
Paige Ratliff finished her Battle Creek Lakeview career in the spring with 10 record book entries across a variety of categories. Most notably, she totaled 37 doubles, 30 home runs and a .520 career average over three seasons and 108 games. She’s continuing at Lake Forest College (Ill.).
Hudson then-freshman Taylor Kopin opened her high school career in the spring by scoring 65 runs to make the individual record book. In doing so, she also helped Hudson make the team record book list with 417 runs scored over 39 games.
Haslett’s Payden Whitmore earned her school’s first softball record book entry since 2007 by hitting 12 triples over 38 games in the spring. She’s a junior this school year.
Mancelona has a pair of softball players who reached career lists last season with more to play. Now-senior Ella Jones was added for 20 doubles as a sophomore in 2022 and 19 this spring, and made the career doubles list with 39 and a season to play. Now-junior Ella Schram was added for her 13 triples as a freshman and .650 average this spring, and she’s on the career triples list with 23 and will qualify for the career average list if she keeps hitting at this pace over her next seasons.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart hit the second-most triples in MHSAA history on the way to the Division 4 Semifinals in the spring. The Irish piled up 48 over 43 games, led by freshman Mairin Wheaton, who hit 12 over 42, respectively.
Reed City made the team record lists with 78 doubles and 252 RBI over 39 games in the spring, and a pair of standouts also were added. Morgan Hammond, then a freshman, and then-sophomore Paityn Enos both were added for single-game RBI, plus Enos was added for 72 hits and 20 doubles and Hammond was added for 22 doubles.
Manton now-junior Adriana Sackett earned her first record book listings in the spring. Twice she hit back-to-back home runs in games, and she also was added for 11 homers total over 26 games.
A trio of Ravenna standouts put up a series of record book-caliber totals over the last two seasons, including some of the highest-ranking all time. Emma Gillard graduated in the spring with nine record book entries, including for 85 runs (fourth most) and 13 triples (tied for 20th) this past season, and she made career lists with 200 runs, 27 triples and a .532 average over 111 games and three years. Emma Herremans is just a junior but has 11 record book listings after two seasons including for 25 doubles (11th-most) as a freshman in 2022 and a .652 average and 73 RBI this past spring, and she’s already on career lists for doubles and triples. Kara Postema graduated this spring with six record book entries, including season and career records for times hit by pitch (23 and 49, respectively), and she also made career lists with 36 doubles and 153 RBI over 111 games and three seasons. Gillard is continuing at Ferris State and Postema at Cornerstone.
PHOTO Evart's Riley Brigham connects during her team's Division 3 Final against Millington in 2022.