The Grand Haven baseball team had their fair share of late-inning drama Wednesday, as they hosted Rockford for the conclusion of a darkness-delayed game and the scheduled third leg of their series.
Starting off in the top of the 11th inning, the Bucs plated one run to take the lead and denied Rockford additional extra innings with an impossible double play from center field to home plate.
In the full matchup, Ethan Prins of Grand Haven threw a gem, taking a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning in the wings of a no-hit performance.
His no-hitter quickly disappeared, along with their lead, as the Rams plated five runs in the seventh to take a 5-2 lead and the eventual win over Grand Haven.
“Every day when you come out here, it is about how you play today,” said Grand Haven head coach Mike Hansen. “What you did yesterday doesn’t mean a hill of beans. We squeaked across a run in the first game, and they didn’t. Then, we made some mental errors in Game 3 and we lost. That’s the way high school baseball is.
“Ethan had a no-hitter going into the last inning. They weren’t making hard contact all day long. They maybe hit two balls on the nose all day. He still had good stuff on his fastball, they hit a ball hard and that’s how it goes.”
The loss left a bitter taste in Grand Haven’s mouth, but a look at the bigger picture and some time to process the missed opportunity will be useful.
“It is satisfying to take the series,” Hansen said. “It isn’t what we wanted when we had the opportunity to win all three, but going into the series, if you told us we would win two of three, we would have been happy with that. It’ll be OK.”
The conclusion of the series was hotly contested after tempers flared at Rockford in Game 1 on Tuesday. As the game came to a close, a catcher-base runner collision cleared both dugouts as both teams took exception to the play. The lingering emotions were felt Thursday in what proved to be a bizarre situation.
“Game 2 on Tuesday lasted so long. In the last four or five innings, every out mattered. It was intense,” Hansen said. “We cleared the benches one time, there was just a lot of intensity. So, when you get in a different location with clean uniforms and new pitchers and new umpires, it takes on a whole different feel. A win is a win, but I would rather finish it on the field the same night.”
The extras-only first game was short-lived. Rockford took the field first as the home team, giving the Bucs first crack at scoring. Jax Mast kicked things off with a single and advanced to second base on an Owen Krizan sacrifice bunt.
Ryan Mattson then took a pitch to the shoulder, bringing Jarrett Prins to the plate. A wild pitch got passed the Rockford catcher, allowing Mattson to advance to third. Prins then sent a ball skyward, allowing Mattson to tag and score to take a one-run lead, which held to the end of the inning.
Rockford got off to a hot start, blasting a long fly ball to center field collected by Tyler Harp for the first out. They then dropped a single into shallow right field and a double to put the winning run in scoring position with one out.
From there, Hansen called for an intentional walk, loading the bases to set up a double play. Rockford then cracked another long fly ball to center field, where Harp caught the out and zipped the ball homeward. In a baserunning gaffe, Rockford’s tying run took off toward home, meeting catcher Ryan Mattson and Harp’s throw at the plate for the final out.
“Normally, in the first inning of a game you would let your hitters swing away instead of sacrificing for scoring position,” Hansen said. “We did that and squeaked by the run. They didn’t, and made a baserunning error, and they lost.”
Game 2 saw scoring action early and late, with a lot of downtime in between. The Bucs, now the home team, picked up one run in the first and second innings and held that lead into the eventful final frame.
Jarret Prins kicked off Grand Haven’s scoring once again, bringing home Mattson with a two-out RBI double in the first inning.
Jared Schwartz scored the Bucs’ second run, pinch running for Riley Walcott from third base after he picked up a double to start the bottom of the second inning and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Alex Kapala.
Mast brought the runner home with an RBI single.
Ethan Prins took over from there, retiring the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings in three batters each.
In the seventh, Prins started to crack, giving up a walk, followed by a double to break his no-hitter. He recovered to force two fly outs with two men on base and forced contact to the infield. The routine throw to first went awry, scoring two runs to tie the game.
Looking to salvage the outing, Prins pressed on but walked the next batter to trigger the pull from Hansen. Harp came in for one-third of an inning of relief.
The third out proved challenging. Pulled straight from centerfield, Harp walked his first batter to load up the bases and gave up a three-run double to his second batter before ending the inning with a groundout.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Bucs put up a fight, putting two men on base to bring the winning run to the plate with two outs. The rally proved too late, as Mattson ground out to end the game.
“Usually, Ethan gets stronger as the game goes on, and you saw that today in the third through sixth innings,” Hansen said of the decision to leave his pitcher in the game. “They still weren’t squaring up his fastball.
“Now, usually I would bring in Landon Keeler for that relief situation, but he pitched the prior game and was unavailable, so we had to go with a different strategy. Nothing against Harp, he did a pretty good job. He threw strikes and they hit a ball hard. It happens.”
The series win leaves Grand Haven at 9-6 in league play, likely eliminating them from title contention as conference-leading Grandville storms toward the season finale.
“Had we swept the series, we would be right there,” Hansen said of the O-K Red Standings. “Now, we will probably fall top three. Grandville was 9-3 coming into this week, and I don’t imagine them getting swept by anybody.
“Hudsonville is next for us. They are talented and always well-coached, so we will digest this for 24 hours and get back to work and try to take that series.”
The Bucs will host the Eagles for a doubleheader Tuesday and finish the series in Hudsonville on Thursday before hosting Spring Lake on Friday for their annual Bucs Pride extravaganza.