Sunny skies, warm temperatures and crowded stands and fields were the norm at the Convis and Flannery complexes at Bailey Park on Saturday.
Yep, spring was finally in the air — and so was a whole lot of diamond action at the annual Gull Lake Softball Invitational.
The premier event, featuring 24 teams — several ranked — from the area as well as from around the state, was broken down into three divisions.
And coming away with the Silver division crown was Harper Creek, which wound up with three victories on the day — including a convincing 20-4, four-inning triumph over Decatur in the title tilt.
“We jumped way ahead with a seven-run first inning in that championship game and never looked back,” said Harper Creek coach Ryan Renner. “Five more runs in the second, three in the third, five more in the fourth … we hit the ball well in that game, we got good pitching and defense in that one as well as all day long … it was a great way to top off the day.”
Stevensville-Lakeshore, the No. 1-ranked team in the state in Division 2, wound up defeating Division 1 No. 9-ranked Portage Central 7-3 in nine innings to claim the Gold division title; and gaining the first-place trophy in the Bronze division was Marine City.
Harper Creek opened its day with an 11-1, five-inning victory over Comstock in Silver division play. The Beavers then earned a hard-fought 5-4, eight-inning win over Galesburg-Augusta in their second game to advance to the final against Decatur.
The Harper Creek vs. Galesburg-Augusta contest was knotted at 3-all after the regulation seven innings. The Rams scored once in the top of the eighth to go ahead 4-3 via an RBI hit by Gracie Duchene, but the Beavers scored twice in the bottom of the frame en route to advancing to take on Decatur.
Taylor Shellenberger was the winning pitcher for Harper Creek in all three of its contests, striking out seven in the championship final.
“We played really good defense all day long, our pitching was really sound, and we just managed to keep our heads up when we were down at certain points of the day,” Renner said. “Those were just three very good wins for our team today … and finally with the nicer weather and the sunshine, it just makes everyone play a bit better and be a bit quicker, and it helps the ball to fly off the bats better as well.”
In its title-game win over Decatur, Shellenberger and Sadie Weller had three hits apiece for Harper Creek; with two hits apiece were Haley Burritt, Jozlin Johnson, Kaycee Klaren, Bree Pajak and Breana Ganton; and with a solo home run was Bri Burritt. Christa Moody had a pair of hits against Comstock.
Galesburg-Augusta had opened its day in the Silver division with a 4-3 win over Vicksburg, with Chloe Ostlund earning the mound triumph. Aside from Duchene getting a key hit for the Rams in the top of the eighth against Harper Creek, Kayla Nyitray had a 4-for-4 performance at the plate against the Beavers.
Gull Lake also played in the Silver division. The host Blue Devils lost 8-5 to Decatur; edged Schoolcraft 3-2; and fell 7-2 to Comstock.
Also locally, Lakeview and Union City played in the Bronze division. Lakeview beat Addison 11-7; was edged 10-9 in nine innings by Marine City; and topped Hastings 16-6.
Gaining mound wins for the Spartans were Kayla Callaway and Cady Belote, while suffering a circle setback was Shayna Starring.
On the day for Lakeview, Katie Reimer had eight hits, including a double; Kayla Knight went 7-for-12 with a triple and a double; Kelsey Callaway had seven hits, including a double; and Brittney Kimball had four hits, including a triple and a double.