By Mitchell Boatman
EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – The Oakridge girls softball team is more than just great.
The Eagles opened the season in spectacular fashion, winning 26 straight games before losing twice in a tournament filled with outstanding teams last weekend.
They’ve used powerful bats and fantastic pitching to dominate their opponents. The Eagles are averaging more than 11 runs per game, while allowing under one run.
They recently won their first Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Tournament title in 15 years, and clinched their second West Michigan Conference championship in three years.
They accomplished all of that with a very young lineup – about half of their starters in any given game are underclassmen.
They have two pitching aces who just happen to be sisters, and they’re coached by a former state champion football coach.
The Eagles’ youth may be the most fascinating part of their story.
For most young teams, the lack of experience leads to mistakes and losses. That’s certainly not the case at Oakridge.
“There have been games when we’ve had as many as six underclassmen in the lineup. Most always there is five,” said Oakridge softball coach Joe Coletta.
Not only do the underclassmen play, but they produce as well. Four freshmen recently had batting averages over .400 – Sophia Wiard (.547), Kaylie Piper (.423) Kayla Fessenden (.414) and Madison Carroll (.403).
Of course some older girls also carry big sticks, including junior Hannah Reinhold, (.574 with four homers) and seniors Alessa Buchner (.414) and Abby Lowe (.368).
Pitching has also been a major strength, thanks largely to sisters Alyssa Fessenden (a junior) and Kayla Fessenden (a freshman).
In her first 13 games, Alyssa Fessenden had a 13-0 record with a 0.91 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 69 innings. Kayla Fessenden started the season 9-0 with a 1.25 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 56 innings.
While the Fessendens handle most of the pitching, Carroll (mentioned above) has been strong as well. She recently had four wins, two saves and 20 strikeouts in her 20 innings of work.
“To have three quality pitchers on our team is rare for a school our size,” Coletta said. “All three will have record-setting careers when their time is done at Oakridge.”
A lot of credit also goes to Coletta, who has applied the coaching principles he learned from his long football coaching career.
“The same successful principles that I learned from (legendary Oakridge head football coach) Jack Schugars are serving me well with the girls and our softball team,” said Coletta, who was a highly-respected assistant coach for the Eagles varsity football team.
“Keep your priorities in order, outwork your opponents, build lasting relationships with your players, surround yourself with quality people, just to name a few.”
Coletta retired from coaching football in 2005 after winning a state title. He has continued to coach softball because it’s a better fit for his personal life.
“Coaching softball has been a good fit for me and my family,” he said. “My son Ty gets 12 big sisters every year and he loves it, and I like having him around because they are such great influences on him.
“I’ve also been blessed to have a supportive wife (Tracey) through it all, because everybody knows that any good coach has a great wife!”
As Coletta and his Oakridge team come down the final stretch of the regular season and prepare for districts, their focus is on improving every day.
“I just want our team to be mentally and physically capable of responding to success and adversity, because those are the qualities of great teams,” Coletta said.