Fourth-inning eruption lifts Bridgman softball team to district championship

BRIDGMAN — The Bridgman High School softball team rode a big fourth inning to victory in the June 5 Division 4 District title game against River Valley.

The host Bees were clinging to a 1-0 advantage before exploding for seven runs in the decisive fourth en-route to an 8-0 victory.

“We’ve had a lot of really big innings,” said Bridgman junior Kaylee Shuler. “We’ll start slow and then we usually have this one big inning where we all bust it open.”

Elise Schmaltz opened the fourth frame with a home run over the left field fence.

“I went up to the plate just going to put the ball in contact, and I let it fly and it literally flew,” she said.

The rest of the big inning was a mix of “small ball” and timely hits.

Peyton Oman (a fielding miscue) and Arie Hackett (a bunt) reached base ahead of Shuler’s two-run base hit, which opened up a 4-0 lead and led to a pitching change with Alexis McCarty taking over for Macey Springer.

Natalee McNeil then bunted her way to first (with Shuler scoring on an errant toss). After Hannah Johnson (a grounder that eluded the defense) and Bella Gearhart (a bunt) joined McNeil on the base-paths, Bri Russell walked in a run, Schmaltz hit a sacrifice fly to make it 7-0, and Oman finished the scoring with an RBI single.

The Bees tallied their first run in the second inning when Gearhart singled, stole her way to third base, and came home when the ball got away at the plate.

McNeil, Bridgman’s lone senior, struck out 12 while yielding four hits and zero walks to get the win.

She was on the other side of the decision two years ago when River Valley blanked the Bees 2-0 to win its fifth straight district championship.

“This team came out really mentally strong, really ready to play,” McNeil said. “We’ve always had each others’ backs since we came in the gym for try outs … It was a great day to be a Bridgman Bee.”

Bridgman head coach Elaine Starbuck said the Bees’ defense stayed solid the entire game to help preserve the shutout.

“We played a great team today,” said River Valley head coach Dan Schaser. “When you make errors like we did in the one inning you can’t win a game.”

He said the Mustangs are young, with three seniors on the roster (Taylor Volstorf, Hailey Hauch and Brianna Martin).

Schaser noted that the Mustangs started four freshman and three sophomores at times during the season.

Bridgman reached the district title game with a 19-2 victory over Michigan Lutheran while the Mustangs bested Lake Michigan Catholic 19-5 in the first June 5 semifinal contest.

The Bees had 12 hits in the ML game including a two-run homer by Emme Slavens, two-run doubles by Arie Hackett, Russell and Schmaltz, an RBI triple off the bat of Shuler, and a triple and RBI double from Haylee Kanous.

The Mustangs racked up 20 hits against the Lakers. Hailey Hauch had four of them with four runs batted in while Hanah Lynch also drove in four.

River Valley also won a June 1 pre-district game against New Buffalo 15-0.

The Bison were without pitcher Ava Mullen due to injury.

Springer fired a three-inning no-hitter while striking out eight. She also swatted a two-run homer and doubled in another run.

Jayla Bryan, Volstorf and Kursten Smith each had two hits while Lynch and Smith both drove in two runs. The Mustang cause was added by seven NB errors.

Bridgman (36-2, ranked fourth in the final Division 4 Michigan Softball Coaches Association Poll)

advances to the June 12 regional tourney in Decatur to take on the host Raiders in a semifinal contest scheduled for a noon start. Kalamazoo Christian and Mendon will play in the other semifinal game, slated to begin at 10 a.m.

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