ST. JOSEPH — Emma Springer hit a two-run homer and Madison Vollman fired a four-hit shutout as the River Valley High School softball team won its fifth straight Division 4 district title by a 2-0 tally over Bridgman on Saturday, June 1.
The triumph at Michigan Lutheran marks the fifth straight district title for the Mustangs.
“I’m very proud of this group. Nobody gave us a chance this year,” River Valley coach Dan Schaser said. “Everyone said we were done after last year but here we are going strong.”
Springer caught a low changeup thrown by Bees’ ace Natalee McNeil on the outside corner in the third inning. The blast sent the ball flying deep into left field, clearing the fence to bring in two runs (Tiffany Hyatt had drawn a lead-off walk ahead of Springer’s at-bat). It was all River Valley (30-9) would need for the win.
Springer she had a good feeling about the hit that ended up making such a big difference in the game.
“Sometimes it’s not so much the feeling off the bat, it’s the feeling in your heart — that’s the great thing about softball is sometimes you just know.”
Springer gave credit to Vollman for pitching a great game.
Vollman went to work early. She struck out Bridgman’s starting order in quick succession, and in the second inning the senior induced a foul out and two popups. She finished her day in the circle with nine strikeouts and one walk to go with the four hits (two off the bat of Arie Hackett).
“I just went at the batters,” she said. “I knew that if I missed my spot that could lead to errors. I knew I had to do my part so my teammates could back me up,” Vollman said.
“She threw her tail off,” Schaser said. “She has been working hard all year, one of the hardest working kids (on the team). I’m happy because this is big for her.”
The Bees (26-4) threatened in the fourth inning, loading the bases with one out on singles by Mackenzie Knowlton, Hackett and Madelyn Oman (a bunt hit). But like most of the game, Vollman continued to be tough and got the three outs on two pop-ups and a strikeout.
“I take blame for hits in that inning,” Schaser said. “I called bad pitches and she threw them where I called them. She kept trusting me and threw them where I called and managed to get through it.”
Bridgman made a final bid to score in the seventh as Hannah Johnson drew a lead-off walk. McNeil made it to base as Johnson was forced out at second. But Vollman soon put an end to things with two straight strikeouts.
“Our bats weren’t there today,” Bridgman coach Elaine Starbuck said. “That was the difference right there, we weren’t hitting.
“But, for being a very young team I’m very proud of them. They had a great season and they did a great job with six freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and three injured players out. I’m very proud of them.”
Both River Valley and Bridgman had runaway victories in their respective semifinal games. The Mustangs defeated Lake Michigan Catholic 13-3, and the Bees shut out New Buffalo 15-0 in three innings.
McNeil had a strong showing across both games. She finished the day with 14 strikeouts (six against the Mustangs and eight versus the Bison), and allowed the six hits in the championship game (Taylor Volstorf accounted for two singles).
Top hitters for the Bees versus the Bison included Knowlton (a single and two RBI), Johnson (a run-scoring double) and Kaylee Shuler (a hit and an RBI).
After his team’s game against the Lakers, Schaser said the biggest thing to work on is improving defense.
“The first game we had several errors and allowed some runs we shouldn’t have allowed,” he said. “If we play good defense, we are there with any team in the state.”
The Mustangs will play Colon in a regional semifinal game scheduled for noon Saturday, June 8, at Gobles High School.
The earlier semifinal pits Lawrence against Kalamazoo Christian.
— David Johnson contributed to this report