By Nate Thompson

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – Just three short years ago, Orchard View’s softball program was at the crossroads of down and out.

The Cardinals finished the season with a 6-30 record, and several of the up-and-coming players were transferring to other schools – including neighborhood rival Oakridge.

The next year, Chuck White agreed to take over as head coach, with a vision of turning things around.

Coach Chuck White sits at the dugout during a recent game. Photo/Jason Goorman

His confidence about rejuvenating the program stemmed from some promising underclassmen that would play bigger roles, and a group of up-and-coming young athletes who hadn’t yet reached high school.

White had coached a large number of this year’s freshmen class in summer youth leagues, and recognized that their talent and potential were immense.

While those freshmen were still in middle school, White got the Cardinals headed back in the right direction. They finished 21-12 in 2014-15, his first season as coach, and last season they tallied a respectable 23-11 record.

Then the freshmen arrived this spring, putting the Cardinals on an instant path to a great season. Orchard View is currently 19-2 overall and 4-0 in Lakes 8 Conference play.

The Cardinals will be among the favorites at Saturday’s Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Class A-B City Softball Tournament.

“I thought we’d be solid, because I knew this group of freshmen was solid,” White said. “But I didn’t expect we’d start out as strong as this.”

Allison Tenhove delivers the pitch for OV. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Cardinals’ four starting freshmen have been lights-out. Among them are two dominant pitchers, Allison TenHove and Halee Holman. When they aren’t pitching they alternate in left field.

Tenhove has a sparkling 10-1 record with a 1.86 ERA, 90 strikeouts and 15 walks in 64 innings. She’s also hitting .386.

Holman has a 9-1 record with a 2.22 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 15 walks in 63 innings. She’s hitting a robust .471 with five homers and a whopping 47 RBIs.

Two other top freshmen are on the left side of the infield. White’s daughter, Cassidee White, starts at shortstop and is hitting a red-hot .568 with more than 20 stolen bases. Matisen Gaunt plays third, bats leadoff and is hitting .455

“I coached three of them (White, Tenhove and Gaunt) in travel ball with the Lakeshore Storm,” the coach said. “They played up (an age) group with 16 and under instead of 14U. And Holman played travel ball with the Sabercats.

“All of them got a little something to add to this team. They’re each dedicated to the sport and want to get better every day.”

As expected, the Cardinals’ confidence is soaring, but White has tried to keep the players grounded.

“Honestly, I believe we’re capable of beating anyone on our schedule,” White said. “But because of our youth, we’re also capable of coughing one up at any time. The Whitehall game (when the Cardinals squandered a lead and lost) is proof of that.”

Morgan Taylor looks up after connecting with the pitch. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Cardinals’ attack is balanced by a pair of senior leaders who have helped the freshmen through some rough spurts. Both catcher Jaelyn Eggerson and first baseman Mason Lysiak have taken on the role of vocal leaders, as well as leading by example on the field.

“Having two freshman pitchers, it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come already,” said Lysiak, who’s hitting .347 this season. “And they’re going to keep getting better. Three years ago, there just weren’t that many girls who were committed to the game. That’s changed a lot.

“Still, we’ve tried to keep them up when they’re down, and there’s times when everyone goes through that,” she added. “It can be nerve-wracking sometimes being a freshman on varsity. So we just try to give them pointers and try to make it a little easier for them.”

Eggerson, who has signed to play at Rochester College, has been a rock behind the plate, often showcasing her strong arm in throwing out potential base stealers. She has a .435 batting average.

“Our seniors have done a fantastic job leading the team,” White said. “But at the same time, these young girls don’t seem to panic. And they never give up. We were down 4-0 in the bottom of the sixth to Manistee (on April 25), and we won 8-6.”

With a lot of fresh faces and a fresh perspective, this group of Cardinals are now shooting for goals that haven’t been achieved in several years.

“We want to be conference champions, and it’s been about 30 years since Orchard View has come close to being conference champs,” Lysiak said. “And one of our last games (before districts) is against Oakridge. And they’re in our district. We’re all looking forward to that.”