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Grand Haven baseball team cashes in on big risk with even bigger reward in dramatic D1 quarterfinal win

Duncan MacLean • Jun 14, 2017 at 12:27 AM

MOUNT PLEASANT — June has been nothing but smiles for the 2017 Grand Haven baseball team, who has cemented themselves as best team on the Lakeshore since 1961.

The Bucs continued their storybook season with a 2-0 win over No. 12 Saginaw Heritage in the state quarterfinals at Central Michigan University on Tuesday, earning them a spot in the Division 1 Final Four and a date with Northville in the semifinals. That game will be played Thursday at 9 .m. at Michigan State University.

See more photos of Tuesday’s game

“It is unbelievable,” Grand Haven third baseman Joey Zelenka said. “We just get to play more baseball.”

After their chain of seventh-inning miracles in the regional tournament, the Bucs flipped the script and took an early lead over the Hawks, putting up two runs in the fifth inning.

That lead carried all the way into the final half inning, when Heritage nearly gave Grand Haven a taste of their own medicine.

Beginning their walk-off inning with two singles, Heritage caught a glimpse of the semifinals with the winning run at the plate and no outs.

The Bucs recorded their first out on a bunt try, as Schweikert charged the plate, scooped the short bunt and got it to second baseman Jarrett Prins covering first base.

With runners at second and third and the Hawk’s No. 3 hitter in the hole, Grand Haven coach Mike Hansen had a tough call to make.

“We needed a double play,” he said. “Their left-handed hitter against a right-handed pitcher has the advantage, and he is one of their better hitters.”

Hansen elected to intentionally walk the lefty, bringing up a notorious Heritage hitter, as mentioned in a scouting report.

“I was told to avoid their No. 1 and 3 hitters with runners in scoring position if you can,” Hansen said. “But, you gotta go with what baseball tells you. Baseball says you put the guy on and put the double play in order and take your chances with the big hitter. He is human. Maybe he pops out, maybe he hits a double and wins the game for them. You gotta take risks.”

With juiced bases and a power hitter at the plate, starting pitcher Max Schweikert gave it a hurl.

The Saginaw slugger chopped a hopper to Zelenka waiting at third base, who collected the bounce, tapped his bag and calmly made the routine throw to Sean Casey at first base.

The double play was just in time, clinching the Bucs yet another program first: a trip to the Final Four.

“I knew Max was just going to throw strikes and we should be ready to make a play,” Zelenka said of the loaded bases situation. “It happened so fast it was just a groundball to me and I threw it over to first, that’s just the game.”

The routine play in a tense situation was just that for a seasoned Grand Haven defense, ordinary.

“I’m assuming other teams have played close games; I’m sure they have. But in the case they haven’t, maybe you put a little pressure on a young kid and maybe that pressure gets to them,” Hansen said of late-game heroics. “We have been in those positions several times during the tournament.

“Our kids are just having fun out there, we don’t feel the pressure that is supposed to be there.”

The first few innings were not nearly as exciting, as both pitchers were dealing and defenses poaching.

Neither team recorded a hit, nor put a man on base until the third inning, when Ryan Mattson took a pitch to the shoulder and broke in the bags.

The bean must have inspired Schweikert. In the bottom of the third, he loaded up his own bases with a walk and two straight hit batters. With two outs down, courtesy of one routine and one slick barehanded play at third by Zelenka, Schweikert forced a pop fly to escape the inning unscathed.

From there, the bats started to heat up. Brandon Tuuk belted a two-out single in the top of the fourth, only to be stranded on base, before the Bucs grabbed the eventual game-winning runs in the fifth.

Prins kicked things off with two free bases, reaching first with a walk and second on a wild pitch. Brady Jonas then sent him to third with a sacrifice bunt before Mattson took another pitch, this time to the hindquarters, sending him to first.

Jake Hansen hit the plate with runs on his mind, by any means necessary. He knocked a single toward the gap at second base but couldn’t quite hit it. While the Heritage second baseman took out Mattson, Prins became the first man across the plate and Hansen made it to first.

The single brought up Kyle Hoover, the man with a plan, facing two outs. The outfielder took just long enough to get thrown out at second that Hansen was able to cross home, scoring the final run of the game.

Heritage saw their second-best chance at a comeback thwarted by the Bucs’ stalwart defense in the bottom of the sixth. Two singles dropped in the near infield to put the go-ahead run at the plate with one out.

The Hawks had a plan and were sticking to it, popping a third ball to short left field, but they couldn’t out-scheme Hoover, who was ready and waiting to make an acrobatic catch and gun down the tag at second.

The double play ended the inning, setting up a stressful conclusion.

Sweikert finished the game with seven hyper-efficient innings pitched, allowing just four hits against a team with three highly-touted college recruits.

“Schweikert, for crying out loud,” Hansen said after the game.

“People look at him and think, ‘this will be a quick game.’ He throws 70 mph, has a looping curveball and a little bit of a changeup. Everybody assumes they will just pound the wall against him, but at the end of the day he won a 2-1 ballgame against Grandville and a 2-0 ballgame here.

“Maybe when you get against these elite teams like Heritage is, you get these big hitters on their front foot a little bit because they are used to seeing mid-eighties fastballs, we don’t have those guys. We have guys who throw strikes, and we try to catch the ball behind them.”

The Bucs are making history with every breath they take now, with their first-ever regional title now in the rearview mirror, all Grand Haven is looking forward to is more baseball.

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