Buccaneers’ varsity baseball coach Mike Hansen was pretty confident in his two top pitchers heading into the current season, but saw plenty of question marks farther down his rotation.
One of those question marks is beginning to look like an exclamation point.
Junior Noah Wittkopp tossed a six-inning no-hitter against Traverse City West on Thursday, leading the Bucs to a split in their doubleheader with the Titans and giving Hansen hope that his young hurler might be on the verge of a break-out season.
“Noah threw an absolute gem,” said Hansen, whose team is now 2-1 after a victory over Mona Shores earlier in the week. “He struck out nine and walked four, and it was even better than it sounds. He was dominant. They didn’t ever hit a ball hard. It was impressive.”
Despite his fantastic debut, Wittkopp is the Bucs’ No. 3 pitcher behind seniors Connor Grimes and John Cahalan. Grimes threw a great game in his team’s win over Mona Shores, allowing four hits and one run while striking out nine over seven innings of work.
Johnny Miller is the Bucs’ fourth starter, while Chad Mattson, Jake Miller, Jared Kelly and John Wickey are the team’s top arms out of the bullpen.
Hansen likes his lineup, with a lot of speed up top in the form of Elliott Martin, a great contact hitter in the lead-off spot. Shortstop Nathan Bonter bats second, followed by Grimes, who wields a dangerous bat and is also a fantastic first baseman.
Hayden Modaff, who has four hits, four RBIs and three runs scored through three games, bats clean-up.
LAKERS LOOKING STRONG
Jeff Lindsey led Spring Lake to a Lakes Eight Conference championship in his first year as the team’s head coach, and hopes to make it two in a row this spring.
The Lakers are off to a good start, sweeping Grant on Thursday.
Spring Lake features a pair of dominating pitchers in Dillon Groover and Jorge Lozano. Their seasons got off to very different starts this week. While Lozano tossed a five-inning no-hitter against Grant, Groover missed his first start due to a sprained ankle suffered during practice.
When he returns, the Lakers will feature a fearsome 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.
“Our strength is in our pitching staff,” Lindsey said. “We have our top two pitchers returning in Dillon and Jorge. They were our horses all year last year. They had their ups and downs, but we had a really balanced lineup last year to help them out."
Kyle Houts is the Lakers’ closer out of the bullpen, and will also be called upon to start a few games, along with David Nagy and sophomores Kyle Peets and Trenton Dove. Offensively, second baseman Houts looks to wield the Lakers’ biggest bat, along with shortstop Kyle Zietlow and cleanup hitter Mark Williamson. Williamson will play centerfield after not playing baseball last year.
Catcher Ben Winsemius will bat leadoff for the Lakers.
Spring Lake isn’t the only team with two outstanding pitchers returning. Nick Reed’s Fruitport Trojans also have their two aces back in Austin Curtis and Travis Grimm.
Grimm was 7-3 a year ago while Curtis was 3-2.
The Trojans got off to a fast start to the season, sweeping Orchard View on Thursday, with Grimm and Curtis each throwing outstanding games.
The Trojans certainly aren’t a two-man team, however.
Andrew Slocum at shortstop and Alex Bowen at second base are both outstanding players.
Mitchell Reyes in centerfield is one of the area’s top players with his combination of speed and power.
WARRIORS OFF TO SLOW START
Western Michigan Christian dropped its opening two games to Covenant Christian on Thursday, 5-1 and 6-0.
Matt VanderPloeg and Logan Waller both threw solid outings for the Warriors.
Coach Chris VanHekken said his team is young, with six sophomores and one freshman in the regular rotation.
VanHekken is excited about his outfield trio of Coleman Brott, Ben Mast and Cam Waller, as well as Jared Varnado behind the plate.