The Grand Haven baseball team’s run to the final four this year will stand as one of the most exciting and improbable runs in school history. A string of seventh-inning comebacks, gutsy plays and happy-to-be-here attitude carried the Bucs past perennial powerhouses and to the top of the Division 1 playoffs.
The season started with a humble hope, to break .500, and earn a crack at the district tournament.
“Early in the season we said if we were .500, it would be a good year,” Grand Haven head coach Mike Hansen said on the eve of the regional tournament.
The Bucs exceeded expectations, finishing 18-15 through the regular season, earning a spot in the playoffs. From then on, they would be chasing the 1988 squad, the last to win a regional tournament game and owners of the longest playoff run in program history- a trip to the regional final. Here is a look back at the improbable run of the 2017 Buccaneers.
The Bucs put their chemistry and knack for dramatic wins on display at the close of the regular season in a rivalry matchup with Spring Lake. In Game 1 of their doubleheader, neither team mustered a run through seven innings, treating a Bucs Pride Night crowd to free rivalry baseball.
After the Lakers put up their first run in the top of the eighth, Grand Haven figured it was time to put the game to bed. A walk and subsequent pinch run put freshman Owen Krizan on base with one out. Krizan stole second, before another hit put Jake Hansen, the winning run, in play.
Kyle Hoover, the man with a plan, capitalized- shooting the gap for a double. Krizan scored with ease, while Hansen got on his horse from first base. A rope from centerfield met him at home. When the dust cleared, Hansen was safe and Hoover had a walk off, establishing a theme for the coming postseason.
The Bucs began the playoffs on the right foot, scoring a run in the opening inning of their pre-district matchup with Holland. They scored two more in the top of the second and one in the third to take their final lead. The Dutch mustered two runs in the sixth, but a stalwart Grand Haven defense stopped them there for a 4-2 win.
It was a run of the mill victory, which must have been boring for these plucky Bucs. From here on out, only their final game of the season would be decided earlier than the seventh inning. Here we go with the antics.
In their district semifinal matchup with tournament host West Ottawa the Bucs trailed, 1-2, heading into the final half inning. Starting pitcher Sean Casey got things going with a single to center field before advancing to second on a wild pitch.
With two strikes against him, Brandon Tuuk delivered another single to score Casey, sending the game to extras.
In the eighth, it was Hoover scheming once again, driving home Ryan Mattson from second base. Joey Zelenka then brought him home with a two-out double, securing a typically rare late-game comeback.
It was more of the same in the district final against Mona Shores. Grand Haven trailed 3-2 heading into the final frame before ripping off four runs in the top of the inning and locking down the Sailors to win the game, 6-4, and secure their first 20-win season in over a decade.
“It is very special to see the joy on these players’ faces after two very hard fought games,” Hansen said after the wins. “I’m very proud of them.”
With the 20-win mark behind them, the Bucs turned to the next historic mark —winning a regional tournament game. The district tournament drama could be cause for fear from a head coach, but Hansen embraced the antics.
“In years past, you had the feeling like we will find a way to lose this game. This year, it is a different feeling,” he said. “This year these kids won’t lie down. It is tangible. These kids are excited as heck.”
The excitement paid off with two more seventh-inning wins over a pair of Bulldogs.
Taking on Byron Center in the regional semifinal, the Bucs found themselves knotted up once again coming into the seventh. True to form, they exploded for four runs in the top of the final inning. Max Schweikert kicked things off, bringing home Zelenka via RBI single.
Krizan took over once again on the base path, advancing to second on a single by Jarret Prins. The watershed was enough for Byron Center, who pulled their starter. The change was ineffective. A wild pitch advanced the Bucs into scoring position. Brady Jonas took note, knocking an RBI single, before Hansen finished off the inning with a 2 RBI single, bringing the Bucs to their final tally of six runs.
The Bulldogs would put up two runs on starter Sean Casey to try and close the game, bringing on the final score, 6-4.
In the final against Grandville, the game was again tied into the seventh. Hansen grabbed a single in the top of the inning, before Hoover did the same. Zelenka then battled his way to first base via walk, juicing the bases for Casey.
After pitching a complete win that morning, Casey finished the job with an RBI single, scoring Hansen from third to take the Bucs’ first lead of the game.
Max Schweikert then took the mound with a one-run lead, looking to close out his complete game and Grand Haven’s first-ever regional championship.
“It was the scariest thing,” he said after the game. “I knew no Grand Haven team had ever won it. I knew I just had to shut it out.”
Schweikert walked his first batter, putting the tying run in play right off the bat. A pop-out put the Bucs two outs away. Then, the young ace trusted his defense.
A long fly ball to right field looked like extra innings- not on Hunter Brown’s watch. The right fielder tracked the bomb and defused it, catching for the first out and gunning down the tag at first base for the second, securing the regional title on a double play.
“Now, we get to play more baseball,” coach Hansen said. “You ask these guys ‘Where would you rather be?’ they answer, ‘Nowhere, coach’. Outside with your buddies, playing baseball and having fun.
“It is a hoot!”
Cream of the crop
More baseball meant a spot in the state quarterfinals for Grand Haven and a date with No. 12 Saginaw Heritage.
The game once again came down to the final half inning, but not on Grand Haven’s account. The Bucs took an early lead by their standards, scoring two runs in the fifth.
Prins took two free bases via walk and wild pitch to get things going. From there, Brady Jonas laid a textbook sacrifice bunt to put Prins on third. Mattson then took a pitch to the hindquarters and another free base. Hansen then knocked a single to second base. Mattson took the out at second to put Hansen on first and Prins back in the dugout.
Déjà vu produced the Bucs’ second and final run, as the always clutch Hoover blasted a double to centerfield, scoring Hansen from first base.
The Hawks did their best to flip the script in the seventh inning, grabbing two singles to bring the game-winning run to the plate with no outs recorded.
Grand Haven was not eager to taste their own medicine, they foiled a bunt try for their first out, putting runners on second and third with a notorious slugger up to bat.
Coach Hansen earned his line in the tale by making what he called simply “the baseball play.” He elected to walk the slugger, loading the bases, to set up the double play.
The field appreciated the trust. Schweikert finished off another nail biter, forcing a grounder to third base, where Zelenka was ready. He gathered the dirt ball, tapped his bag and made the routine throw to Casey at first base, recording the double play for the win.
“I knew Max was just going to throw strikes and we should be ready to make a play,” Zelenka said after the game. “It is unbelievable, we get to play more baseball!”
Unfortunately, only one team ends the season with a smile. The Bucs’ luck ran out in the state semifinal at Michigan State against Northville as they fell, 9-1.
The run was everything but ordinary and will be remembered by the Grand Haven baseball community for years to come. A perfect storm of talent, spirit and luck, these 2017 Bucs rose above the noise.