Grand Haven’s varsity baseball team had 10 players depart from last season’s district championship squad.
So far, Bucs’ coach Michael Hansen said this year’s team has a long ways to go to reach that level.
“No, I’m not happy with our pitching and defense. Not yet,” Hansen said following Grand Haven’s 5-0 loss to West Ottawa on Thursday at Grand Haven High School that dropped his team to 0-3. “Our pitching needs to be more aggressive in attacking hitters within the strike zone and our defense needs to be more consistent. You’ve got to pitch, you’ve got to catch and you’ve got to hit. You notice that the first two come before the last. Right now, we’re not doing it, but we will.”
It might have helped the Bucs’ relatively inexperienced roster had they not had nine games wiped out due to horrible spring weather, but Hansen isn’t holding that as an excuse.
“They’re juniors, they know how to play baseball,” he said. “They need to have their heads in the game and make plays. Even if it were freshmen, I’d still expect that.”
While Hansen wasn’t pleased with his top two priorities, Grand Haven’s hitting wasn’t much of a strength against West Ottawa pitcher Eddy Neumann, either. The power pitcher, who also relied on a nasty curve, limited the Bucs’ lineup to just four hits. He struck out eight and issued just two walks.
Neumann’s win completes a Panthers’ season sweep of the Bucs, as they also defeated them in a doubleheader on Wednesday. For the first time, O-K Red teams are facing each other three times this season.
West Ottawa loaded the bases on Bucs’ starter John Cahalan in the first inning and scored on an infield single. But Cahalan limited the damage by striking out a pair to leave three Panthers stranded.
Grand Haven also escaped some early-inning issues by taking advantage of some Panthers’ base running gaffes. Catcher Wyatt Suchecki made an on the money throw to punch out a West Ottawa base runner trying to steal third that ended the second inning, and the Panthers also saw a potential big inning end early in the third.
The Bucs tried to pick off the Panthers’ Nick Trameri at third, but the ball skipped away from third baseman Chad Mattson, prompting Trameri to bolt towards home. Mattson recovered in time to beat Trameri with a throw home, where he was easily tagged for the third out.
The game remained a one-run affair until the fourth, when the Panthers rolled the dice on a suicide squeeze bunt by J.D. Otteman. Otteman bunted Cahalan’s pitch into the air, but the Bucs’ hurler couldn’t get off the mound quick enough to snag it, then fumbled the ball to make everyone safe on the play.
Hansen felt his team tallied some solid-hit balls against Neumann, but the Panthers either made key defensive plays or Neumann buckled down to avoid any damage.
After allowing a double to the Bucs’ Chad Mattson in the third, West Ottawa received a run-saving diving catch in the outfield to end the threat.
Neumann forced Bucs’ clean-up hitter Ty VanWieren to hit into an inning-ending double play in the fourth, and after allowing the first two Bucs’ batters to reach in the fifth, Neumann chalked up two fly ball outs and a strikeout to keep Grand Haven scoreless.
West Ottawa’s biggest inning came in the top of the fifth when they chased Cahalan and scored three runs on four hits. John Wickey came in relief and allowed the first three batters he faced to reach base, but then retired seven of the next eight Panthers.
“He was very solid,” Hansen said.
Grand Haven loaded the bases in their last chance in the seventh, as VanWieren reached on an error, Cody Jonas singled and Mattson walked. But Neumann got Grand Haven’s No. 9 hitter, Aaron Shumaker, to pop up in the infield, and the Panthers’ hurler gobbled it up to secure the win.
Hayden Modaff and Connor Grimes each had singles for the Bucs, who return to action on Monday against Reeths-Puffer.