BATTLE CREEK — Isabella Najera delivered two clutch hits to put Lakeshore ahead in Tuesday's Division 2 softball quarterfinal against Spring Lake.
And when Lakeshore coach Denny Dock needed a relief pitcher to close out the win, he had confidence Najera could come through one more time.
Najera wrapped up her big day with three quick outs to get the save, securing a 3-1 Lakeshore victory.
"She came in in a tough situation and did a beautiful job," Dock said. "She's loose as can be. She leads the dance in pre-game. She stays loose and keeps us loose."
Lakeshore (32-10) advances to the semifinals to play Eaton Rapids at 10 a.m. Thursday at Michigan State University.
"I am so excited," Najera said. "This is the best feeling ever. I just can't wait to work as a team and do our best on Thursday."
The first five innings of Tuesday's game were scoreless as Lakeshore freshman pitcher Gianna Kerschbaum dueled with Spring Lake ace Leah Vaughan.
Najera got the Lancers going when she led off the top of the sixth with a double to right-center. That brought up Lakeshore home run leader Laney Mead, who bunted Najera over to third.
"It comes up every now and then," Dock said. "Your best hitter in a runner-on situation, nobody out. I gave her a swing, and then said we've got to go bunt, we've got to bunt her over. She did an awesome job. We keep trying to emphasize 'play for us, play for us.'"
Lakeshore also got a key bunt from cleanup hitter Shelby Grau that allowed Najera to sprint home just ahead of the throw with the game's first run.
"I'm not even going to lie, I was scared out of my mind," Najera said. "But I've got to do what I've got to do for my team, and we succeeded at that so that was a great moment. I'm ready for the next one."
Najera's next big hit came in the seventh. With two runners on, her hit down the line just barely eluded diving Spring Lake left fielder Janna Ercole, bringing home both runs.
"The tough one was giving up the two runs late," Spring Lake coach Bill Core said. "But you know what, we didn't come here to play the ball on one hop. She went for it, and that's how we play.
"They played a good game. It was a pitcher's duel, it's a game of inches, today they won by the inches."
Kerschbaum dominated the Lakers for the first six innings, striking out 11 batters and allowing just two hits and no walks. But Spring Lake's Jenna Core led off the sixth inning with a home run, and Kerschbaum then walked Molly Poole on four pitches.
Dock turned to Najera, who recorded two strikeouts and a groundout to first to finish off the win.
"We've got a lot of pitchers," Najera said. "We all know that we have to be ready no matter what happens. Gianna pitched a great game. We've just got to have each other's backs."
Vaughan pitched all seven innings for Spring Lake, striking out nine. She was also in the circle for the quarterfinal game two years ago, when Lakeshore defeated the Lakers 6-1.
"Their pitcher's a good pitcher," Dock said. "We got (six) on her two years ago. We got three today and we were happy to get three."
Lakeshore 3, Spring Lake 1
WP — Gianna Kerschbaum 11k. LP — Leah Vaughan 9k. S — Isabella Najera.
Top hitters — Lakeshore: Najera 2 2b, 2 RBIs. Spring Lake: Jenna Core HR.
Records — Lakeshore 32-10, Spring Lake 34-5.
Contact: bsanders@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSanders