EAST LANSING — Lakeshore quickly realized it could hit the ball off Eaton Rapids ace Grace Lehto in Thursday’s Division 2 softball state semifinal at Michigan State University.
And then the Lancers just kept hitting.
Lakeshore defeated Eaton Rapids 8-1 in a light rain, pounding out 11 hits off Lehto, who entered the game with a 0.34 earned-run average and 342 strikeouts.
“As soon as our leadoff got a hit, I was like ‘Alright, we can do this. It’s not impossible,’” Lakeshore outfielder Laney Mead said. “I think that gave us the mindset that we could, as a team, do it. It wasn’t going to be just a single person accomplishing everything.”
Lakeshore (33-10) will try for its eighth state title at 10 a.m. Saturday against defending state champion Escanaba, a 2-1 winner over North Branch.
Lakeshore hit the ball hard from the beginning of the game, but didn’t get its first official hit until Sierra Ciesielski’s single in the third. Isabella Najera then followed with a triple to deep center, putting the Lancers on the board.
Lakeshore broke the game open in the fourth. Meghan Younger led off the inning by getting hit by a pitch, and Gianna Kerschbaum followed with a single. Younger beat the throw home on Anna Chellman’s grounder to second, and Kerschbaum did the same on Nadia Amicarelli’s squeeze bunt.
Then the Lancers really began to crush the ball. Ciesielski tripled to deep right to bring in two runs, Najera followed with an RBI single, and Mead doubled off the top of the center field fence to make it 7-0.
“We knew we couldn’t go up there and swing wild,” Lakeshore coach Denny Dock said. “We said every pitch is hit with two strikes, and we really disciplined ourselves to do that. We said do not go up there with the idea that you’re going to outswing this girl, because history says that’s not going to happen.
“Once we got momentum going, holy cow. The girls were over there and they said turn us loose. I told them yesterday, show us you can get the bat on it and we’ll turn you loose. Then they got just confidence like crazy.”
Eaton Rapids (39-4) scored its only run in the top of the fifth on an RBI groundout by Kendi Richardson with the bases loaded. Emily Cline then hit a flyball deep down the right field line, but Kerschbaum made a great running catch to save at least two runs and end the inning.
The Greyhounds didn’t put another runner on the rest of the game, and Amicarelli added an RBI single in the sixth to produce the final margin.
“I thought this was going to be really close game, but we killed it,” Najera said. “I’m so proud of my team. This is great.”
Lakeshore used three different pitchers to get through the game. Kerschbaum picked up the win, throwing the first 3 2/3 innings before giving way to Najera in the fourth. Grace Connelly relieved Najera in the fifth and closed out the win.
“We’ve got a pitching staff and we’re not afraid to put them in there,” Dock said. “All three of them did a great job at their time. They lost it a little bit, next girl comes in and picks us up. What a team. We use the roster.”
Lakeshore 8, Eaton Rapids 1
E. Rapids 000 010 0 — 1 6 2
Lakeshore 001 610 x — 8 11 0
WP — Gianna Kerschbaum. LP — Grace Lehto.
Top hitters — Eaton Rapids: Kendi Richardson 1b, RBI. Lakeshore: Sierra Ciesielski 1b, 3b, 2 RBIs; Isabella Najera 1b, 3b, 2 RBIs; Laney Mead 1b, 2b, RBI.
Contact: bsanders@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSanders