By Mitchell Boatman

PARK TWP. — Heading into Saturday’s regional semifinal game against state-ranked Grandville, Grand Haven softball coach John Hall just wanted his young team to compete.

The Buccaneers, with no seniors on the roster, were in uncharted territory, but did what their coach hoped they would do and gave the experienced Bulldogs a game.

Grand Haven led early in the game and kept things tied heading to the middle innings, but Grandville ultimately pulled away for an 8-4 win at West Ottawa High School, ending the Bucs’ season.

Hannah Aldren delivers a pitch for Grand Haven. Photo/Jason Goorman

“We wanted to be in a ballgame in the fifth inning,” Hall said. “To come to this (regional) weekend and be a part of it, to be in it in the fifth inning, only springboards you. It only makes you better. 

“I hate losing, but I don’t mind getting beat. We got beat today.” 

Grand Haven finished the season with a 16-23 record after grinding through the tough O-K Red conference schedule. The program won its first district title since 2016, and Hall expects bigger and better things next year with every player eligible to return, 

“We had three girls with varsity experience this year,” Hall said. “They all now know what it’s like. I’ve got a bunch of girls that love softball and at the end of the day, now they know what it takes to win a softball game.

“You’ve been here. You’ve been in the game in the fifth with one of the top 10 teams in the state of Michigan. That’s you next year.”

Kendall Pahl makes a play at second base for Grand Haven. Photo/Jason Goorman

Grandville plated two runs in the top of the first inning on an RBI single from Jaime Vandermeer and an RBI sacrifice bunt from Kylie Dillard.

The Buccaneers responded right away, scoring three of their own in the opening frame. A two-out double from Sami Franz scored Emily Walcott to get Grand Haven on the board. Following a walk to Kendall Pahl, Regan Riemersma smacked a triple to right-center to score two runs and put her team up 3-2. 

The lead didn’t last long. Grandville’s Maddie Gkekas drilled a two-run homer in the top of the second to put Grandville up 4-3. The Bucs pulled back even in the bottom of the frame on an RBI single from Walcott to score Gianna Romanelli.

The Bulldogs took the lead for good on an RBI single from Joslyn VanderHart in the top of the fourth. Grandville added two more in the fifth on a sacrifice bunt from Vandermeer and an RBI single by Dillard to make it 7-4.

The Bucs looked to have a rally going in the sixth, but it was stunted by a close call at second base.

With one out, Riemersma and pitcher Hannah Aldren reached on back-to-back singles. Michayla Chciuk then hit a looper into right field that dropped between the second baseman and right fielder. With only one out, the runner at first had to hold until she could be sure the ball fell. Grandville’s right fielder fired the ball to second base for a close force out on a bang-bang play, and the Bucs did not score in the inning.

Hall appealed the call to the home plate umpire, because it looked like the ball may have been bobbled at second base. 

“It’s a crazy read,” Hall said. “It was a tweener, just a tweener play. We thought there was a bobble on the catch (at second base). I thought there was a bobble, (the umpire) didn’t see that, but no big deal. Those two guys were great. We had some very good umpires today.” 

Grandville tacked on a final run in the seventh when Lexi Wickstrom scored on a wild pitch after reaching on a hit-by-pitch earlier in the inning. 

Grand Haven managed eight hits in the game, with six of them coming in the first two innings. 

Riemersma led the offense with a triple, a single and two RBIs, while Walcott had a pair of hits. Franz, Aldren, Romanelli and Veda Vargas each had one RBI.

Aldren pitched 6 2/3 innings for the Bucs. Riemersma recorded one out in the circle on a strikeout.