OTSEGO, MI – It was a jog she has made many times before, but Kendra VanderLugt’s final trip around the bases Tuesday was a trot unlike any other in the Otsego senior’s distinguished softball career.
VanderLugt tied the state’s single-season home run record by blasting her 26th dinger over the centerfield fence against Berrien Springs.
“Rounding the bases that time did feel different because of the atmosphere,” VanderLugt said. “The whole place felt like it exploded when I hit that ball. Everyone was cheering; I was pumping my fist running around the bases; I had girls on the other team telling me, ‘Great job, great hit.’ Even the high five from my coach was just extra awesome because everyone was so pumped, and it just felt euphoric because we were all so excited about it.”
The future University of Toledo slugger needed two home runs to match the 26 hit in 2018 by Schoolcraft’s Lydia Goble and Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse’s Brooke Nadolny.
“There was a little pressure today, but I didn’t think about it too much, and I just kind of tried to treat every at-bat like normal, so that the bat just kind of did the work, and I just let my body do the work, and then the home runs came,” she said.
Her first homer came in the first inning on an outside pitch that didn’t quite find the sweet spot, but had just enough power to clear the right field fence.
Her second shot was a no-doubter.
“I think it was a little up and in, and I just kind of got the full barrel on it, and it was a line drive straight over the fence,” she said. “There wasn’t much air under it; it was just a straight shot. Knowing that I had tied the record and hearing everyone just screaming around me, it was so awesome. Just to know that I had done it, and that I at least tied it was just an awesome feeling.”
VanderLugt reached 26 homers in 37 games, while Goble did so in 33 contests and Nadolny in 37.
She said it’s an honor to find herself among those players, plus former travel ball teammate Kali Heivilin, who hit her 25th home run of the season Tuesday in Three Rivers’ win over Schoolcraft.
“It feels incredible to me and just kind of extraordinary because I never really pictured myself being among these great players, with Kali, with Lydia Goble and all the players that have just reached this goal,” she said. “It’s just incredible to see myself here and to know that the work that I’ve been putting in has kind of come together to bring me here.”
With its regular season in the rearview mirror, Otsego takes its 34-3 record and No. 6 ranking into the Division 2 playoffs, where the Bulldogs will face Hopkins (15-11) in Saturday’s district semifinals at Wayland.
VanderLugt said she’d like to keep her home run swing going in the playoffs and claim the record outright, but will happily settle for singles or doubles if it means her team moves on.
“I do feel some pressure to break it, but at the same time, it’s the postseason, and in my mind, is totally different than the regular season,” she said. “It’d be awesome to continue this, and I really would love to do that, but it’s single elimination — all or nothing each game — and you never know what game will be your last.
“Going to the postseason, I would love to be able to continue hitting more goals, but my mindset right now is just doing anything to win. During the at-bats, I think it’ll be in the back of my mind, but I’m just taking it one at-bat at a time, and if the home runs come, they come, but if they’re singles or doubles or whatever, and we end up winning the game, then I’ll be just as happy that we’re moving on.”