In Play with Tom Markowski

Esman of Gull Lake is one homer shy of the record of 22 with regional semifinal ahead

Softball   | Tom Markowski

Esman of Gull Lake is one homer shy of the record of 22 with regional semifinal ahead

Richland – And the hits just keep on coming.

Taylor Dew of Muskegon Mona Shores and Brooke Nadolny of Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse reached the 22-homer plateau for a single season recently and share the state record.

But the chase isn’t over. Lauren Esman of Richland Gull Lake hit four home runs last Saturday and is one shy of tying these two power hitters. Esman will get her shot at the record this Saturday when Gull Lake (29-11) plays Howell (37-2) in a Division 1 regional semifinal at Grand Ledge at 10 a.m.

Esman, like Nadolny, is a sophomore. Dew is a junior. Esman is an outfielder and one of her team’s top pitchers. She’s hitting .696 with 24 doubles and 91 RBI.

Esman hit two home runs is a 13-0 district semifinal victory over Holt then belted two more in an 11-1 victory over Jackson in Saturday’s final. Both games were played at Gull Lake and Gull Lake coach Kate Smith said the distance to the fences at her park are pretty much on par with any other playing field – about 200 feet down each line.

“There wasn’t much wind on Saturday,” she said. “Most times it blows in but not this time.

“Lauren hit about five or six home runs as a freshman and she re-tooled her swing in the offseason. She pulled everything before. Now she’s hitting to all fields.”

Esman bats third in what has been a consistent lineup for Smith.

Esman’s power surge is yet another indication that softball is becoming, or has become, more of a game for power hitters. Ten to 15 years ago teams would scrap and claw to score runs as most of the hitters used the slap-hitting style.

“I would agree,” Smith said. “When I played at Portage Northern, and I graduated in 2002, we had eight slap hitters. We had one power hitter and that was Ashley Smith (no relation). She hit like 12 home runs that year and then went on to play at South Carolina.”

One can point to a change in the rules recently for the increase in home run production. In 2011 the distance from the pitching rubber to the plate was increased from 40 to 43 feet. Smith, in her 12th season as a head coach, the last nine at Gull Lake, said it became more of a hitter’s game then and added that most pitchers are throwing the ball 60 mph or less. It was common before the change for pitchers to throw in the low-to-mid 60s.

Even with the change it took some time for the batters to adjust and to make better use of their power. Before this season 10 players had hit 17 or more home runs in a season. Of those only one (Melinda Van Gillis of Pentwater, 18 home runs) accomplished this before 2009.

Gull Lake has another home run hitter this season. Junior shortstop Ashton Whitman has nine.