EGELSTON TWP. – You can’t get any closer to a district championship without actually bringing home the trophy.

The Fruitport softball team battled a heavily favored Oakridge squad to an unexpected 2-2 tie through most of Saturday’s Division 2 district title game at Oakridge High School.

The Trojans had a runner on second after a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh, and a single probably would have scored the runner and given them the win and the championship.

That didn’t happen, but later in the inning they had the bases loaded with two outs, and the runner on third would have been the winning run, but the threat ended with a strikeout.

The teams wrestled on through three extra innings, with neither giving an inch until the top of the 10th, when Fruitport made two errors and allowed Oakridge to score four runs.

Photo/Jeremy Clark

In the end the Trojans lost 6-2 but gave a strong demonstration of how far they’ve come since a very rough performance in the GMAA City Tournament last month.

Fruitport lost to Oakridge 10-0 and Ravenna 13-1 on that ugly day, but pulled themselves together and finished the season with 14 wins in their last 20 games.

That hot streak included an 8-5 win over Whitehall in the district semifinals on Saturday, which allowed them to get the rematch with Oakridge and compete in a great championship game that could have gone either way.

The Trojans finished the season with a 23-15 record.

“They really came together with team bonding,” said Fruitport Coach Bob Dorman, when asked how the Trojans started playing so well over the last month of the season. “They are always together. They love each other. Once they really started forming that bond, the chemistry became really good, and it made a big difference.”

Photo/Jeremy Clark

The exciting part is that all but the two seniors from the vastly improved squad will be back next season.

“My closing words for them today was that the offseason starts tomorrow, and my goal for them is go improve and get one percent better every day,” said Dorman, who agreed that his team could be playing for several trophies next year. “If they do that it will make a world of difference.”

The loss in the finals wasted an extremely gutsy pitching performance by Fruitport’s Brooklynn Russell, who went all 10 innings on the mound and held the powerful Eagles in check until the very end.

Russell’s statistics weren’t off the charts. She allowed eight hits and seven walks while striking out five.

But she kept the powerful Oakridge hitters from making solid contact for most of the game and did not panic when trouble arose.

Photo/Jeremy Clark

A good example came in the top of the fourth inning, when Oakridge led 1-0 and had the bases loaded with two outs. Russell coaxed a grounder to short to end the scary inning and keep the Trojans only one run behind.

She did not allow a run in six of the 10 innings, and only allowed two before the ugly final inning.

Dorman said it was easily Russell’s best game of the season.

“We talked and we said she wasn’t going to give in today,” the coach said. “We talked about if she walked somebody, we’re good with that, she will go get the next one, and she did that all day.

“She’s only a junior and she’s going to get even better.”

Photo/Jeremy Clark

Russell’s pitching, backed by a lot of solid defensive plays, gave the Trojans time to find their timing at the plate.

They trailed 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth and were starting to run out of time to get something going when Madyson Prout doubled over the center fielder’s head, then Kya Tawney launched a two-run homer over the left field fence to tie the score.

“At first I figured it was a gapper, but it just kept carrying,” Dorman said about Tawney’s homer. “It was beautiful.”

Fruitport made it look like extra innings would not be necessary in the bottom of the seventh, after Prout led off with a double and represented the winning run.

The next Trojan batter drew an intentional walk, then a liner was caught by the Oakridge third baseman for the first out. A sacrifice bunt by Madison Kohnke moved the runners up to second and third, then another intentional walk loaded the bases.

Photo/Jeremy Clark

A hit or even an Oakridge error would have ended the game, but the next batter struck out.

“I was thinking, ‘We got it,’ but hats off to Oakridge, they didn’t fold up,” Dorman said. “They stepped up when they had to. They are a very good team.”

The game came unglued for Fruitport in the top of the 10th when two straight Trojan errors on routine ground balls gave Oakridge runners on second and third with one out. A successful squeeze bunt put the Eagles up 3-2, then three more runs followed on a pair of singles and a passed ball.

After the game, an emotional Dorman had great things to say about his players and the way they performed against a great Oakridge squad.

“I told the girls, I will never forget this game,” he said. “It was one of the classics.”eddie