Throughout the season and leading into pool play of the 34th annual Softball Classic, Eaton Rapids coach Scott Warriner was perturbed at his team’s inability to score runs early in contests.
In the championship game against Okemos on Tuesday at Ranney Park, the issue was not present.
The Greyhounds plated five runs in the second inning, punctuated by a two-run home run by senior Bailey Baker, as Eaton Rapids won 6-2.
It was the fourth Softball Classic championship in a row for the Greyhounds and their fifth in six seasons.
“It’s certainly a goal we set for ourselves every year, and we’ve got a nice little streak going,” Warriner said. “A lot of the credit goes to four of our senior captains. They have been starters for four years and they have been Classic champs for four consecutive years, so we’re really proud of those girls.”
Senior Jaime Lightner picked up two more wins and had all four in the tournament going back to pool play against St. Johns and Pewamo-Westphalia. She allowed 10 hits and two earned runs in 14 innings on Tuesday against Fowler and Okemos and earned tournament most valuable player honors.
“Jaime is very consistent,” Warriner said. “She threw a lot of strikes, which was important. She wasn’t getting behind in the count very often and basically relying on keeping the ball near the strike zone and letting her defense work behind her – and she’s got a good solid defense behind her. I know she trusts them.”
The Greyhounds were in a battle with Fowler in the semifinals, which were played at Ranney before the championship game.
A two-run home run by Payton Benton gave Eaton Rapids a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but Fowler’s Kelsie Feldpausch had an RBI single in the bottom of the first to make it 2-1.
Four scoreless innings gave the Eagles hope, but three runs in the sixth inning on RBIs from Courtney VanKouvering and Elly Wythe made it 5-1 and a solo home run from Baker in the seventh put an end to the upset chances.
“Fowler was a very scrappy team,” Warriner said. “We did kind of have to weather that wave of emotion they had that they brought into the game. They were feeding on that emotion the more and more they hung around. It was a matter of us staying the course. I thought our veteran leadership and our seniors showed composure.”
Then it was off to play Okemos, which had blanked Mason 2-0 in the first game behind a five-hit shutout from senior Caitlin Meade.
But costly errors and Baker’s round-tripper made it an uphill climb early.
“She really crunched that ball,” Warriner said of Baker’s shot to left field for her second home run of the night.
“I had a good hit, but we had a lot of good hits in the game,” Baker said. “We got a lot of hits from a lot of players. It was nice because we had contributions from everyone.”
The Chiefs made five errors in the championship game, but coach Chrissy Schoonover was pleased the program made the run it did back to the final.
“Second inning we had a rough go. We made three errors. I’ve been trying to tell the girls all season it’s got to be one error and done and even that can bite you and they can score. They were hitting really well,” Schoonover said. “We’ve won this thing seven times over the span this tournament’s been going. Okemos has tradition too, so I really tried to encourage them and told them don’t be intimidated, just go out and play and for the majority of the game I felt good. (Eaton Rapids) is ranked fourth in the state I think. They’re a good team with good pitching, good all the way around. Our goal is to win districts and get to regionals and we’re going to see teams this caliber along the way.”