BERRIEN SPRINGS — Bridgman stayed positive throughout a May 19 softball doubleheader against Berrien Springs – even when trailing by seven runs.
The Bees used a big rally to win the opener 11-8 in eight innings, then cruised to a 10-2 victory in game two, improving to 27-1 on the season.
Two days later Bridgman won 12-0 at New Buffalo (the secomd half of the twin-bill was forfeited by the short-handed Bison) to maintain the top spot in the BCS White division with league contests remaining against Lawrence and Michigan Lutheran.
“This Bridgman team has the most heart out of any team I’ve ever played for, and I have played a lot of softball,” Bridgman senior Natalee McNeil said following the victories at Berrien Springs. “Always up in the dugout, every single girl is more excited when someone else does something good than when they do it themselves. That’s what makes our team so special and that’s why we’re able to pull out crazy wins like that.”
McNeil has been a dominant pitcher this season, but Berrien Springs (19-8) had success against her early on, building an 8-1 lead after five innings.
Bridgman got its offense going in the sixth. Elise Schmaltz crushed a two-run home run to make it 8-3. Arie Hackett plated two more runs with a single, then stole second and third and scored on a throwing error to make it 8-6.
After Bella Gearhart doubled with two outs, McNeil stepped to the plate and tied the game up with a two-run homer.
“Bella really set the stones for me,” McNeil said. “It always feels great to hit home runs, but it feels even better when people are coming in with you.”
Berrien Springs put two runners on in the bottom of the sixth and one in the seventh, but couldn’t break the deadlock.
Bridgman then scored three in the top of the eighth. Kaylee Shuler followed Hackett’s RBI single with an RBI triple, then scored herself on Gearhart’s sacrifice fly.
McNeil then pitched a third straight scoreless inning after her rough start to secure the victory.
“Natalee McNeil is one of the best pitchers in the county,” Berrien Springs coach Mark Coons said. “We got on her early, but it’s kind of a testament to her that she stayed with it and kept battling and coming back to put us away. She hit well, and made the most out of what we gave her.
“We’ll bounce back. We’ve got some good players that didn’t hit well today.”
Olivia Elliott dominated early on for the Shamrocks. She had an RBI single in the first inning, a two-run home run in the second, and drove in another pair of runs with a single in the fourth. She also pitched the first game, striking out 10 with no walks.
“She’s carried us all year, even through some injuries,” Coons said. “She missed 13 games for us. We’ve done well without her, but obviously she’s the catalyst for us.”
Elliott added another two-run homer in the second game, but that was all the scoring the Shamrocks could manage off Bridgman pitcher Hannah Johnson.
Johnson also fared well at the plate with a two-run homer in the second game and an RBI double in the opener.
“Hannah does a great job pitching for us,” Bridgman coach Elaine Starbuck said. “Her at-bats are very strong – I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of them, I can tell you that. She hits rockets. She’s a great all-around player.”
Bridgman got offense throughout the lineup, including home runs from five different players. Shuler hit one to open the scoring in the second game, then nearly added another with a double off the top of the fence in her second at-bat. Hackett added a two-run shot in the fourth.
“We try to mix it up because all the girls can actually hit,” Starbuck said. “They all pick each other up because if someone’s having a bad day, someone else is there to step up and help the team.”
Bridgman’s only loss of the season came to River Valley, and the Bees later avenged it with a doubleheader sweep of the Mustangs.
“We try to stay mentally positive as much as we can because everyone makes mistakes,” Starbuck said. “We make mistakes, other teams make mistakes. It’s going to be which team stays most positive throughout.”
Ranked fourth in the May 18 Division 4 softball coaches poll, the Bees (29-1) took an early 3-0 lead via base-running at New Buffalo on May 21.
Shuler walked and stole her way around the bases in the first inning for a 1-0 lead. Hackett singled and came home on throwing errors after swiping second base in inning number two. Shuler later doubled and scored on a bunt by McNeil.
In the fourth inning Shuler hit the ball past second base with the bases lodaded to make it a 5-0 game.
Bridgman tallied seven more runs in the top of the fifth as McNeil reached base on an error, Johnson doubled her in, Elise Schmaltz stroked a run-scoring single, Bri Russell walked, Peyton Oman was safe at first (with Schmaltz scoring), Hackett’s hit led to an error that brought two more runs home, and Shuler stroked an RBI double.
McNeil struck out 12 while pitching a no-hitter with one walk.
New Buffalo’s Ava Mullen was charged with just one earned run. The Bison were down to two outfielders by the end of the first game.
— David Johnson contributed to this report