Lakeshore’s softball team didn’t always have the look of a state finalist.

The Lancers have just one senior on the roster. They lost 10 games this season, and were beat out by rival St. Joseph for the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West Division championship.

But Lakeshore survived its struggles, and is playing its best softball of the season at the right time. The Lancers defeated Eaton Rapids 8-1 on Thursday, and will try for the program’s eighth state title when they take on defending champion Escanaba at 10 a.m. Saturday for the Division 2 championship.

“We hadn’t put it together, and I thought we could,” Lakeshore coach Denny Dock said. “I really thought we could. My wife Sue said you’re really pushing these kids, and I said I know, but I think we can do it. I’m going to push them, they have to understand that they can do it.”

Lakeshore’s only senior is third baseman Nadia Amicarelli. The Lancers have six freshmen on the varsity roster, and two of them – Gianna Kerschbaum and Anna Chellman – are regulars in the lineup.

“I knew that we were going to be good,” junior Laney Mead said. “I didn’t know we were going to be this good, though. I was kind of shocked.

“Our freshmen, they always help us out. It doesn’t matter what grade they’re in. Everyone’s pitching in. We’re all competing our best.”

“We’ve been playing travel (softball) together since we were super young,” junior Isabella Najera added. “We’ve all been waiting for this moment, and we’re finally at the finals. We can’t wait to do our best Saturday.”

Unlike the other three Division 2 semifinalists, Lakeshore doesn’t feature a dominant pitcher with gaudy statistics.

Five pitchers have thrown regularly for the Lancers. Kerschbaum has become their primary pitcher in the postseason, but Dock isn’t afraid to use multiple arms to get through games. Najera, Mead, Chellman and sophomore Grace Connelly have all pitched.

Dock credited the return of long-time pitching coach Yogi Mort for making a difference with the pitching staff.

“There’s little pieces of these little puzzles that have to fit,” Dock said. “Our pitching, we were just a little off. I called up our old buddy Yogi, and I said ‘Come on man, I need some help.’ He is a special technician. He knows how to coach pitchers.”

A difficult schedule also helped prepare Lakeshore for its tournament run. The Lancers will face a dominant pitcher in Escanaba’s Gabi Salo, who has committed to the University of Wisconsin.

But they showed they can handle tough pitching in Thursday’s win, scoring eight runs off Eaton Rapids’ Grace Lehto, who had a 0.34 earned-run average prior to the game.

“This was kind of a schedule win,” Dock said. “We’ve seen the girl from Gull Lake, we’ve seen the girl from Penn, we played Caledonia three games. It’s not like we don’t see this. And (Lehto) is good, don’t get me wrong. The point is our schedule, we build it to see kids like this. We’ve played girls like that, and we take a lot of pride in that.”

Contact: bsanders@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSanders