Two seventh-inning victories capped off a historic weekend for Grand Haven baseball, as the Bucs took their first ever regional title with a 2-1 win over Grandville in the championship game.
A four-run seventh inning explosion in the semifinal pushed Grand Haven past Byron Center, continuing their trend of stressful finishes.
RECAP: Grand Haven vs. Byron Center- regional semifinal
“There is a comfort level with this team. There is no panic whatsoever,” Grand Haven head coach Mike Hansen said. “As long as the other team has one more out to get, they have a shot.
“In a close ball game today, we forced the issue toward the end, something happens and we scored one more than they did with two outs in the seventh.”
Tied at one through six innings, the Bucs put their confidence to the test. After giving up two outs in their final chance to score, Jake Hansen kicked things off with a single, putting the go-ahead run in play. Kyle Hoover continued his hot day from the plate, advancing Hansen with a single of his own.
A battle at the dish sent Joey Zelenka to first base with a well-earned walk to juice the infield for Sean Casey. Casey pitched a complete win against Byron Center in the semifinal, but his day was not done. The morning ace finished the job with an RBI single, bringing Hansen home from third to take their first lead of the ballgame.
“We have just been so clutch with two outs in this postseason run,” Max Schweikert said after the game. “Nobody wants to be the last out.”
With just three outs between them and a regional title and a narrow one-run cushion, Schweikert took the mound looking to close out on history.
“It was the scariest thing, because I knew no Grand Haven team had ever won the regionals,” he said. “I knew I just had to shut it out.”
A shaky start to his seventh inning pitched put the tying run on first right away, as Shweikert walked his first batter. The young ace then took control, forcing a pop-up for the first out.
The Bucs defense supported their pitcher, as the Bulldogs hit a long ball out to right field. Hunter Brown threw his second textbook rope to get the tag at first and clinch the title with a double play.
“Every time they hit one to the outfield I thought, ‘oh, this is it, this is gone, this is the triple.’ It is nerve wracking,” Shweikert said. “I just rely on my defense, they made some phenomenal plays, they always do and they have through this whole postseason.”
Schweikert finished with seven innings pitched, giving up one run on three hits, while walking two batters and striking out one.
“Phenomenal,” Hansen said of his pitcher. “He does more with less than I have ever seen before.”
Schweikert and Brown both made huge plays early in the game to keep Grand Haven in contention.
Schweikert took his talents to the batter’s box, securing the Bucs’ first RBI to tie the game in the top of the sixth inning. Joey Zelenka laid a line-hugging bunt toward third base to reach first, before Brandon Tuuk pushed him to third with a single and Schweikert knocked a base hit to bring him home.
Brown held down the outfield, keeping Grandville off the board in the third inning with a brilliant throw from right field to third, gunning down a triple-bound Bulldog.
“Brownie out in right field, we have been putting him in for defense, and he has been doing a nice job,” Hansen said. “He has four game-changing plays. Not only does he go get the ball in the air, he has a quick release once he has it and gets it to the infield.”
Despite the play, later in the third Grandville’s hitters got to Schweikert for a double and RBI triple to take an early 1-0 lead.
“There is no message,” Hansen said concerning the deficit. “We play baseball. There are seven innings. We focus on playing good baseball and making the right play at the right time.
The Bucs capitalized exactly when they needed to with timely hitting and gutsy attitude. The game-winning RBI for Casey left him with two hits in the final game. Hoover lead the way on offense with three hits while Zelenka and Tuuk each finished with two. Schweikert totaled one RBI on one hit, while Hansen rounded out the hitting stats with one clutch hit in the seventh.
Every one of the Bucs’ hits was a single; they took no extra bases over the course of their comeback win.
“Every single play makes a different when you play high-quality teams, you can not take anything for granted,” Hansen said of the clutch play. “When the fifth inning came around I said, ‘this is our time.’”
The win sails the Bucs into uncharted seas, the state quarterfinals. With new, unknown opponents ahead, Grand Haven is just happy to be here.
“Now, we get to play more baseball,” Hansen said. “You ask any one of these guys, ‘where would you rather be?’ they answer ‘nowhere coach,’ and where would you rather be? Outside with your buddies, playing baseball and having fun — it is a hoot.
“Not a clue who we will play. It could be Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers, but they can ground out to second base just like anyone else. We just play our game and judge ourselves on that.”
For informational and planning purposes, Grand Haven will face off with No. 12 Saginaw Heritage at Central Michigan University on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
PHOTO GALLERY: REGIONAL TOURNAMENT