MUSKEGON – The Ravenna softball team might not catch Oakridge in the West Michigan Conference title race, but they gained the next best thing Saturday, as they clipped their league rivals in a 7-4 win to clinch the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tier 1 championship at Reeths-Puffer High School.
The Bulldogs dropped a pair of heartbreaking losses to the Eagles in a conference doubleheader on Wednesday after leading for the majority of both contests but managed to turn the page quickly, exact some revenge and collect a trophy in the process.
“It means a lot, especially coming off those losses to Oakridge earlier this week,” said Ravenna sophomore catcher Kendra Denhof, who finished with two doubles and four RBI. “It’s definitely personal whenever we lose against Oakridge. It’s a big rivalry and there was a lot of pressure on us to beat them heading into the season, but I knew that everything happens for a reason. Those two losses (earlier this week) really motivated us. We just pushed ourselves so hard all week in practice and we were waiting for this moment. This is what we had in the back of our heads while we were practicing.”
The two teams were deadlocked at 1-1 through five innings of action before Denhof smashed a double into the outfield that scored two runs to give the Bulldogs a 4-1 lead after six innings. In the top of the seventh inning, Ravenna tacked on a few more runs, as Addison Gillard added a 2-run single and Denhof added another 2-run double to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 7-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning.
Oakridge battled back in the bottom frame as they strung together a few pressure-packed hits to cut the deficit to 7-4. Unlike their two previous meetings, however, Ravenna managed to stymie the momentum of the Eagles’ power bats and hold on for a statement win.
“I know it’s been a long time since we’ve won the GMAA and I can’t remember the last time Ravenna has been Tier 1 at this tournament, so it’s a big deal for us,” said Ravenna head coach Dave Sherman. “I know the girls were excited for this opportunity to showcase themselves against some of the better teams in the area.
“I think the group in our dugout knew that we belonged here and we have talked for a while about how Ravenna softball is getting better and better but now we have something to pin our hats on. We were pretty confident that we were going to have a good softball team this season and we backed that up today.”
Addison Gillard registered three hits and two RBI to lead Ravenna from the plate, while Denhof added two hits and four RBI, and Maddie Kilbourne had one hit and one RBI.
Gillard also picked up the win from the mound, giving up four runs on eight hits while striking out two batters.
“My mindset all day was that I have a great defense behind me, so if I do my part, then I can trust that my teammates have my back,” said Gillard after the game. “(Oakridge) got a couple of good hits in the last inning but I still felt good about our situation. This was one of our team goals all season, so I’m really proud of our team for completing it.”
Ravenna leaned on its strong pitching staff to get the job done Saturday, as Emma Herremans picked up the decision in the team’s 10-2 win over Whitehall in the opening round of the city tournament, while Emma Gillard added an impressive performance in a 12-2 win over Reeths-Puffer to send her team to the Tier 1 championship game before Addison Hillard closed out the day by slowing down a powerful Oakridge lineup.
“I thought Addison hit her spots really well today,” said Sherman. “Whether it was an inside or outside change-up, she was on the spot. She pitched 11 innings today and she stayed consistent from start to finish. It’s fun calling pitches when you’ve got a pitcher who can get to spots all over the plate, especially in counts where they are looking for a fastball and we are throwing changeups.”
Ravenna (19-2) will face Shelby on Tuesday, while Oakridge will host North Muskegon in a West Michigan Conference doubleheader.
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