By Nate Thompson

NORTON SHORES – They won an O-K Black championship this season. They set hitting records.

But the three fourth-year seniors on the Mona Shores softball team had never won a district championship.

That finally changed on Saturday.

The Sailors jumped out to a 5-1 lead on Grand Haven in the Division 1 district championship game on their home field, then withstood a Grand Haven rally to claim a 7-5 victory and that elusive district title.

The triumph clinched Mona Shores’ first district title since 2014. The Sailors, who are now 27-14 overall, advance to next Saturday’s regional round to face conference rival Jenison.

Ronnie Kastelic approaches third base and eyes home plate for Mona Shores. Photo/Jason Goorman

For seniors Taylor Dew, Veronica Kastelic and Grace Hall, the district title was better late than never.

“This means a lot, because we definitely have been working up to this since our freshman year,” said Kastelic, the Sailors’ shortstop, who had three hits and three RBIs against Grand Haven. “We came so close our freshman year, but sadly it didn’t happen. So to finally reach it during our senior season, it feels great.”

Kastelic got the Sailors off to a roaring start, blasting an opposite-field home run to right-center off Bucs’ starter Madi Shumaker. Mona Shores added two more runs in the first inning, aided by a pair of Grand Haven errors.

Grand Haven got a run back with a sacrifice fly from Haley Aldred in the bottom of the first.

Grand Haven coach John Hall inserted senior Baby Hang into the pitching circle in the second inning, but Mona Shores again showcased its home run power.

Taylor Dew, who is battling to keep her lead in the race for the all-time state home run crown, connected on what at first appeared to be a long fly ball that kept drifting until it cleared the left field fence.

Mona Shores led 5-1 after two innings.

The Bucs scored a run on a Sailors’ error in the third inning, but an RBI double from Kastelic in the fourth gave the Sailors a seemingly safe 6-2 advantage.

Mona Shores’ Grace Hall gets ready to make the catch in center field. Photo/Jason Goorman

“I just try not to think (at the plate),” Kastelic said. “I just try to keep calm and do what I can do for my team and put the ball in play.”

Grand Haven made things interesting by scoring two runs in the fifth inning to make the score 6-4. The uprising was keyed by an RBI double from Shumaker.

But the Sailors answered in a clutch way in the sixth with a two-out shot to the gap by Hall that scored Kastelic and gave the hosts a three-run cushion.

Mona Shores coach Jason Crago said consistent hitting throughout his lineup was a key to his team’s two victories on the day.

“Grace’s hit was huge,” he said. “Any time you can get runs with two outs, that’s so big because they’re one pitch away from being out of it, and we keep putting the pressure on. During the last month, we’ve been hitting one through nine. That keeps innings going. That’s what good teams have to do.”

Grand Haven scored on an error to cut its deficit to two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but Sailors’ pitcher Lauryn Patterson got a called third strike to end the contest.

Patterson wasn’t overpowering, with just a pair of strikeouts during the contest, but she mixed in a changeup to keep Grand Haven hitters off-balance. She allowed six hits and walked just one.

Crago praised the play of Erika Dakin, who had a pair of hits and had a strong defensive effort at third base for the Sailors.

In the semifinals, Crago said he didn’t expect his squad to jump all over the defending district champions from West Ottawa, but the Sailors rolled to a mercy-shortened 15-0 victory.

The Bucs got past Reeths-Puffer 6-1 to advance to the finals.