EAST LANSING — Anna Chellman hugged fellow freshman Gianna Kerschbaum as the two Lancers stood in line.

Somber, tear-streaked faces were all around as Lakeshore’s softball team waited to receive the Division 2 state runner-up trophy after falling 7-3 to defending champion Escanaba on Saturday. It was a tough loss, especially for a team that went from early-season struggles to a big postseason run.

“Next year seems like miles away right now,” Lakeshore coach Denny Dock said. “It’s nice to get here. Escanaba’s a good ball club. They deserve everything they get.”

Lakeshore (33-11) struggled at times in the regular season. The Lancers lost 10 games, were beaten by rival St. Joseph for the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West Division championship, and suffered through a number of growing pains with a young team.

Those struggles followed Lakeshore into the postseason, as it made a number of errors on defense and had a few misreads on the baseline in the district finals. But the Lancers did just enough to edge host South Haven for a 3-1 title victory.

Yet, somewhere between winning the district title and entering the regional semifinals, a switch seemed to flip for the Lancers and they started to get better.

They defeated Vicksburg 5-2 for the regional title, and then bumped off two ranked teams in Spring Lake and Eaton Rapids. Lakeshore defeated the No. 6-ranked Lakers 3-1 in the quarterfinals, and had big hits from a number of players in an 8-1 semifinals victory over the third-ranked Greyhounds. 

“At the beginning we struggled but through all of that we showed a lot of potential,” Chellman said. “I knew that if we worked hard and worked together we could get it done. This is how far we’ve come and I’m excited for where we are.”

The semifinal win over Eaton Rapids was a major victory. Not only did the Lancers move on to the title game, but they proved that they could hit off tough pitchers like the Greyhounds’ Grace Lehto, who had a 0.34 earned-run average before Lakeshore toasted that stat with 11 hits.

Lakeshore carried its swinging ways into the title game against the top-rated Eskymos. Against standout pitcher Gabi Salo, they got seven hits and three runs.

“We knew we could (get solid hits) after the semifinals,” Chellman said. “We couldn’t get it done as well today.”

Lakeshore can look to make more postseason runs in the near future. The Lancers graduated only one senior in Nadia Amicarelli, returning a healthy mix of younger players.

“It gives me a lot of hope that we can get very far next season,” Chellman said of her teammates returning. “Hopefully we can go one step further and win a state title.”

Dock had a bit more cautious view.

“When you look at the brackets, there’s two juniors (Salo and Lehto) and our group returning,” he said. “(Salo) will get better, that’s what’s scary. You’ve got to fight like a dog to get back here.”

Contact: acrider@TheHP.com, 932-0371, @HPAaronCrider