FRUITPORT – One of the luxuries of being a first-year head coach at the varsity level is the freedom to adjust expectations as you learn more about your team.
Spring Lake softball coach Brian Glover is experiencing that first-hand this spring, as he takes over for a program that went 7-16 last spring and only brings two seniors into the fold for the 2022 season.
The Lakers completed a doubleheader sweep of OK Blue Conference rival Fruitport on Tuesday by scores of 13-5 and 13-3 to improve to 6-0 on the season and force the group to reevaluate their early season goals.
MORE: Images from Tuesday night’s softball doubleheader
“It was a little bit of a struggle at first, but I think they are kind of starting to buy into what we are preaching now,” said Glover after the game. “I think they won seven games last year, so when I talked to them in the beginning when I first got here, they didn’t think we’d win 10 (games) this year.
“Now, we’ve won six already, so we’ve got a ways to go, but we’re getting better. They’re starting to believe, they’re starting to understand the way we play defense, and how we get outs. We’re not just trying to strike everybody out. We’re trying to get ground balls or fly balls so we can catch them and make plays on defense. They’re starting to buy into that but we’ve still got a ways to go.”
The Lakers stockpiled 17 hits in Game 1 including four runs in the top of the first and sixth innings to pull away from the Trojans for a 13-5 win. Avery Britt and Alexa Carter each registered a home run to spark the offense with Carter collecting five total hits and Britt adding a team-high 4 RBI in the contest.
Avery Flynn picked up the win from the circle for Spring Lake, as she recorded seven strikeouts over seven innings and allowed five runs on 13 hits.
Brooklyn Russell registered nine strikeouts to lead Fruitport on defense and added two hits from the plate, while Abbey Eads and Brylee Dewitt each had multi-hit games.
Game 2 saw the Lakers and Trojans battle for six innings, as Spring Lake eventually held a 7-3 lead before exploding for six runs in the seventh inning to secure a 13-3 victory. Carter was once again the catalyst from the plate for the Lakers with four hits, while Flynn added three hits and three RBI, Kendra Kieft had three hits and Teegan Rose and Kaylin Solack each added two RBI.
Flynn picked up another win from the circle, striking out seven batters over seven innings and allowing three runs on seven hits.
For Fruitport, Kadence Springstead recorded 10 strikeouts from the circle and added a multi-hit game for the Trojans at the plate, while Rylee Lusk added two hits.
“The bottom of the lineup came through for us (against Fruitport),” said Glover. “The top of the lineup struggled a little bit at times, so that was huge for us and we played defense when we needed to. In the first game, we had some defensive lapses but then we corrected those in the second game and performed better.
“There were a couple of times in that second game where we had two outs with nobody on and we ended up scoring runs and that’s huge. We talked about not quitting just because there are two outs on the board and how we need to keep going. The girls are starting to buy into it. We’re starting to get it and we’re starting to fight at the plate and go.”
One of the key performers for the Lakers this spring is senior Avery Flynn, who doubles as the team’s ace pitcher and one of their best hitters from the plate.
“She’s all-everything,” said Glover of Flynn. “As she goes, we go. She came up with a big hit (in the second game) that broke the game open. For her to be able to pitch like that and then get up there and be one of the top hitters is not an easy thing to do. She just handles it all very well.
“She and Alexa Carter have been working very hard. I don’t call pitches from the dugout. I let Carter call the game from the plate. We talk about hitters in between innings, but the rest is really on her. She handles it well and she’s getting better every game at it. She’s learning how to work batters and get outs. Those two work really well together and they are a big reason for our success so far.”
For Flynn, adjusting to a new coach isn’t a foreign concept, as she’s dealt with three different head coaches in her varsity softball career.
“Each year has kind of been a fresh start for me because I’ve had a new coach every single year in high school,” she said. “It’s something to look forward to every season because you do get to see that different perspective of the game.
“The team has really changed over the years too. We do have a young team, but we can develop these girls. We have a lot of potential and I feel like that’s where my role comes in. I’m just trying to help them believe in themselves and believe that they can do it because that’s the biggest thing in this game is having confidence in yourself. I’m just trying to get the younger players on our team to play with a little more confidence out there and I think they are already seeing what they are capable of after these first couple of games.”
Flynn has experienced plenty of success during her time in the Spring Lake softball program. She was a member of the 2019 team that reached the Division 2 state quarterfinals and saw the Lakers reach similar heights in 2018 and 2017 when she was in middle school.
“It was amazing,” she said of her team’s run in 2019. “It was a disappointing ending because we lost, but it was definitely a memory that I’ll never forget. Now, that’s a goal for us to push for again and see if we can potentially live up to what previous teams have accomplished at Spring Lake.
“I always looked up to the girls who were on the varsity team when I was younger. Every time I saw them run onto the field, I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be able to make a big play in front of my community and represent my community. That’s always something I’ve strived to be and I’m enjoying being a senior leader this year.”
Unlike most standout performers, Flynn prefers to stay in the background and do everything within her power to elevate her teammates through her play.
“I love being a leader, but I don’t try to be a leader,” she said. “I feel like leading is more about being behind the pack and encouraging your teammates to reach higher and not necessarily making yourself the story or putting yourself in the spotlight all the time.
“I want the girls around me to be the ones who are getting the attention, not necessarily me. If they’re making these great plays when I’m pitching, I want them to get credit for those phenomenal plays. I don’t want to just get credit for shutting a team out or holding a team to a few runs, because it’s really a team effort. I want all my teammates to feel powerful.”
Flynn plans to extend her softball career to the college level but for now, she’s just focused on ending her high school career on a high note and helping the Lakers reach higher than they even thought possible a month ago.
“My goal this year is just to do my best and try to push myself harder than I have in the past,” said Flynn. “There’s really no limit for me or this team. More often than not, you can push yourself farther than you think you can, so I don’t really like setting goals for myself because then I’ll think in my mind that’s as far as I can possibly go. I want to be able to look back at this season when it’s over and think ‘How did I get here?’ and then I can appreciate all the things that I’ve pushed through to get here.”
Glover isn’t planning on putting any limitations on what his squad can accomplish this spring and believes the 2022 squad could create even more opportunities for future Laker softball teams.
“I think we need to get more involvement, which I’ve already started with the middle school kids,” he said. “They’re going to come and practice with us more often and we’re trying to build up a JV program again too. I think that’s critical whenever you’re trying to build a long-term program.
“As far as the varsity team this year, we want to be able to get them to compete because I don’t think they believed that they could compete heading into the season. They’re starting to believe, so if we can get past that phase where we are just going through the motions like we did early on in Game 2 (against Fruitport) and the effort is there from start to finish, then I think we’ ll really take off pretty good.”
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