When Coopersville starting pitcher Jimmy Borgman was removed with one out in the top of the seventh inning in Wednesday's Division 2 baseball pre-regional at Hickman Field in Spring Lake, Lakers' varsity head coach Jeff Lindsey was somewhat relieved.
"I have to give a lot of credit to their pitcher," Lindsey said. "He's the first guy all year that has shut us down."
With Broncos' reliever Seth Hicks called on to preserve a 3-3 tie, the Lakers' offense rose to the occasion.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Lakers' senior JP Batts came through with the biggest hit of the season, a walk-off RBI single to right that gave Spring Lake a 4-3 victory.
Batts was mobbed by teammates after Kyle Zietlow touched home for the winning run, but Batts kept calm, cool and collected during the celebration, despite the rarity of the moment.
"That's my first walk-off hit I can remember," Batts said. "Maybe since Little League."
With the win, Spring Lake (16-5-2) advances to Saturday's district semifinals at Fruitport, where it will face Sparta at 10 a.m. The host Trojans and Allendale play in the other semifinal at noon, with the finals slated for 2:30 p.m.
The Lakers certainly had to work to extend their season to the weekend. The Broncos chased Spring Lake starter Dillon Groover in the third inning, when they scored two runs and still had the bases loaded with no outs. Lindsey handed the ball to Jorge Lozano to work out of the jam.
Lozano, whose family moved to Spring Lake from the Dominican Republic this past year, not only did that, he worked wonders.
Featuring an upper 80s fastball and nasty 12-to-6 curveball, Lozano struck out the side in the third to keep the score at 2-1, and proceeded to fan seven more Broncos in a dazzling performance. His only rough stretch came in the fourth, when he allowed an RBI double to Hicks, but gave up just one more single the remainder of the contest.
"I just tried to come (into the third inning) focused," Lozano said. "I knew the team was down and I just tried to stay calm and work through it."
Batts said Lozano has seemingly improved with every start, after he struggled to adjust to the unusually cold temperatures in early spring.
"I'm used to 85, 80 degrees (in the Dominican), and the lowest we have is probably 60," Lozano said. "It was hard early on, but I never took that as an excuse. I just needed to fight through it."
Lindsey said he's noticed dramatic improvement in speed in Lozano's changeup, and his curve is in top form.
"His last three starts, it's been phenomenal," Lindsey said. "Nobody has touched it."
Borgman had strong off-speed pitches himself, which helped him strike out five and produce several groundball outs. Still, the Lakers made the most of their opportunities.
Spring Lake grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first after No. 2 hitter Kyle Houts tripled, then pulled a Jackie Robinson-like steal of home during a throw from Broncos' catcher Miles Clifford back to Borgman. Borgman's return throw home was wild, allowing Houts to score easily.
Lozano helped his own cause in the fourth, as he tallied an RBI single to score Batts, and eventually rounded the bases and scored on a stolen base, error and a wild pitch.
The Lakers produced just a single in the fifth and went down in order in the sixth, but saved their best at-bats for last.
Borgman struck out the first batter he faced in the seventh, but after issuing a walk to Zietlow, the Broncos' hurler was pulled. Hicks produced a pop-out for the second Lakers' out, but they remained alive after a hard grounder by Cody Houts scooted under the glove of the Broncos' second baseman and into right.
Groover walked to load the bases and Batts was instructed to take a few pitches to see if Hicks would remain wild.
"The kid was throwing a slider and we haven't seen a slider all year," Lindsey said. "JP missed on it, so I was shocked he came back with a fastball. I was like 'thank you.'"
Batts said he choked up on his bat and was all over the offering, adding another milestone to a season that has already produced a Lakes Eight Conference championship.
"We've been confident the whole year," Batts said. "We know we've got a good team. We've got a good defensive team. Everyone plays their part well."
Lindsey said he'll hope Groover bounces back from a shaky start in Saturday's semifinal, then, if they advance, Lozano will pitch for a district title.
"It all starts with pitching," Lindsey said. "If our pitchers come out and throw strikes and rely on the defense behind them, that will be key. I feel like our offense will be back and ready to go. We've always been hitting on all cylinders."