“Launchpad” season starts FHC Softball’s journey to the next level

Ally Stapleton, Editor in Chief

As the chalk is cleaned off the softball diamond and the dust settles on the infield after three months of use, the FHC softball team is walking away from the season with a record perfectly balanced at .500, three MHSAA records, and four all-conference athletes.

And this is just the beginning.

“This season was a phenomenal launch pad for all the future success and a nice entryway for peers and outsiders to keep us on their list of teams to watch,” said senior first baseman Maggie Scannell.

The Rangers’ final game against East Kentwood, which knocked them out of the district tournament in the first round, marks not only the end of play until next spring, but also the end of a satisfactory season for the Rangers.

“We definitely performed at a higher level than we thought we would,” said senior outfielder Robyn Mast.

After a change in coaching just over a month before tryouts, the Rangers entered the season with a fresh approach and a lot of expectations to shatter.

“The biggest team goal we had was to undig this reputation or label that Forest Hills Central softball wasn’t a good team, [that] they didn’t work hard, [that] their program was useless, etc. etc,” Scannell said. “We had a lot of people in the softball world to prove wrong.”

As part of the tough OK White Conference, the softball team had defending conference champions Caledonia and strong teams at Grand Rapids Christian, Jenison, and Lowell to battle. They finished the season with a conference record of 4-6.

Head coach Bill McElroy was happy with the Rangers’ season but expressed even greater expectations for coming years.

“I think we hit the ball well this year. As a team we had a .339 batting average with 14 home runs,” said McElroy. “Next year we need to contend for the OK White conference title.”

One standout athlete on the team was junior shortstop Hannah Gavle.

“[Gavle] broke some MHSAA records,” Scannell said. “As much as she’d hate me adding this into the team’s greatest accomplishments and how other people might think I’m singling out one person’s talent and that’s not right, when you’re highlighting a whole team that is worth recognizing.”

In a game against Grand Rapids Christian on April 28th, Gavle hit three consecutive home runs and ten RBIs, which is the most consecutive home runs and RBIs in a game in MHSAA history, as well as the second most home runs in a single game.

“[Gavle] is an incredible person and player who knows the game and works so hard and is so humble,” Scannell said.

The team was also aided by the strong bat of Marissa Ewald, who won All-Conference honors along with Gavle and sophomore catcher Emily Wiltz. Mast earned an All-Conference honorable mention. Strong players in all areas of the field, however, were major contributors to the team’s wins.

“We all played really well individually but also put our skills together and played as a team,” Mast said.

While the team had many successes, they also have room for improvement next year. Scannell described “several innings … that would absolutely kill us, where we beat ourselves in the field,” and McElroy pointed out fielding as one area that will be focused on during the off season.

Scannell remembers a weekend tournament that the team won in Belding as a special moment of teamwork, crediting the three new coaches with the team’s synergy.

“[The coaches’] own chemistry and how well [they] knew and worked with each other rubbed off on us kids,” Scannell said. “We won medals at a weekend tournament at Belding, and we really clicked that day, playing both sides of the game and meshing well as a team.”

Teamwork and the positive team dynamic is a theme that comes up often in talking to members of the team. The athletes tried to focus on softball in their time together while also having fun.

“The team dynamic was solid. … [We all shared] the will to work, the want to win, and also laugh and be happy in each other’s company,” Scannell said. “We all left the baggage from the long school day or social media accounts [or any other] problems at the door essentially, before 3pm every single day.”

McElroy echoed positive thoughts about the team’s interactions and again looked to future years to build on this positive team dynamic.

“I think the team got along well,” McElroy said. “I am looking for some stronger leadership this next season from the seniors and juniors.”

Satisfied with their season and losing only four seniors, the Rangers are already looking forward to even more success in the future. McElroy stated that he is looking forward to helping the team get stronger in the off season, especially working to improve fielding.

“I think this season brought FHC back on the map, and opened a lot of doors for upcoming years,” Scannell said. “By the time the middle schoolers come up and [with] everything the coaches set up for this summer and the offseason, they’ll be good in no time.”