Lakers are West Michigan D League champions

Bear Lake’s 2018 West Michigan D League champion softball team poses after winning the title with a doubleheader split at Mason County Eastern on Wednesday. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Bear Lake’s 2018 West Michigan D League champion softball team poses after winning the title with a doubleheader split at Mason County Eastern on Wednesday. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

CUSTER — It took them one game longer than they wanted, but Bear Lake won its first West Michigan D League softball championship since 1987 by splitting a doubleheader with Mason County Eastern in Custer on Wednesday.

The Lakers booted the ball around to the tune of five key fielding errors in the first game, losing it 12-11, before getting out the hitting sticks in the nightcap for a 20-8 mercy-rule, title clinching win in the nightcap.

The win was the result of a long, arduous journey for the team from the resurrection of the program after a 1-year hiatus due to lack of players in 2016.

Back then, a group that included several freshmen and eighth-graders lost 18 games, including an 11-game losing streak.

Now, that same group is the core of a league champion.

Bear Lake junior pitcher Hayley May said that she was “super excited” by winning the title.

“This is everything I’ve been working for since my freshman year,” May said. “It’s huge for our school, since it hasn’t been since 1987.”

Bear Lake went into the twinbill needing just one win in the two games to clam the title, while MCE would win it, extending its 3-year run as champion, with a sweep.

The opener stared promisingly enough, with the Lakers jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning when Abby Cross tripled over the centerfielder’s head, driving home Shaely Waller, and then scored herself on a throwing error.

But they gave the lead right back in the second inning, when MCE scored three unearned runs to take a 3-2 advantage.

The lead went back and forth from there, mostly due to neither team being able to field the ball consistently, until Bear Lake scored four runs in the top of the sixth to take an 11-8 lead to come just one half-inning from the title.

But the Cardinals rallied with four runs in the last half-inning, the last of which scored, aptly, on a wild pitch to steal the 12-11 win and extend their own league title hopes.

The walk-off defeat was Bear Lake’s first and only WMDL loss of the 2018 campaign.

“The first game was a little frustrating,” Bear Lake head coach Garret Waller said. “I thought we had them, we were two outs away winning that first one, just too many errors. But I’m proud of the way they came back in the second game.”

It looked like more of the same to start the nightcap, when MCE got the first batter of the game on base on a Bear Lake error, and got her around to score to take a quick 1-0 lead.

But the Lakers were not to be denied, beating the ball into submission with a 10-run second inning that gave them a 13-2 lead and all the runs that they would need.

Abby Cross had the key hit in that 10-run second, a 2-run triple to right field that plated Kalissa Swanson and Shaely Waller, part of a massive day at the plate. Cross had three triples, three RBI and crossed the plate seven times in the twinbill.

The Cardinals responded with five runs in the top of the third to give them a glimmer of hope and close the gap to 13-7, but that was their last gasp.

Bear Lake scored four runs in the bottom half, two of them on a 2-out, 2-run single by Swanson, to restore the double-digit advantage.

MCE scratched out a single run in the top of the fourth, but Bear Lake posted three more in the bottom half to put the game on ice.

May closed out the game by retiring the side in the top of the fifth, the only 1-2-3 inning of the two games, to help trigger the mercy rule and bring home the hardware.

Garret Waller said that his team showed character in bouncing back from the disappointing opener.

“They’re a lot more resilient than I am,” he said. “The kids never cease to amaze me, how they can forget about it just like that. They were just playing catch in between games when I was all (ticked) off over there.

“It’s amazing how they can just say, ‘Okay, let’s forget about it and just do it.’”

Chances are slim that the team, or the school, will forget its first softball league championship in 31 years.

Or that they will have to wait another three decades for the next one. With only one senior on the roster, the bulk of this championship team will have a second straight title in their sights in 2019.

avatar

Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply