A 3-0 victory over Thornapple-Kellogg in the semifinals cleared out a spot for the 2018 Lakers in the program’s history books, serving as their first win in the regional round in 23 seasons.
The encore featured a familiar opponent, as they faced fellow O-K Blue Conference competitor Grand Rapids West Catholic for the regional title and a place in the state quarterfinals.
The Falcons bested the Lakers, 8-5, in a back-and-forth contest that put Spring Lake’s poise and love of the game on display as they erased an early four-run deficit to put themselves in the game down the stretch.
A four-run deficit in the seventh put the Lakers in a tough spot. They battled back, as always this season, to put the tying run at the plate with two outs in the bag but couldn’t muster the final hits necessary.
Photo Gallery: Spring Lake baseball regional run
The game ended with a high called strikeout, warranting outcry from the Spring Lake dugout. There was no such complaint, as they took the loss with grace and class, further illustrating the tremendous leadership necessary to turn a 3-15 season in 2017 into a shot at a regional championship.
“This season is over the top,” said Spring Lake head coach Jeff Lindsey. “These kids did everything we asked. We came into the season a little nervous about what we would have. I had parents tell me they talked to their players about if they really wanted to come out after what happened last year, and I don’t blame them.
“We set them straight and had a heck of a year. This team never gave up.”
Six Laker seniors played their last game for the red and gray Saturday, all leaving a lasting mark on the program. Zach Bennink, T.J. Cunningham, Griffin Lorimer, Rylan Peets, David Rumptz and Christopher Saxe established a goal of changing the team’s culture in their final season, but only dreamed of the run those changes would fuel.
“Last year’s team, if we got down, we gave up. This team never would,” Lindsey said. “That comes down to our seniors and the leadership they showed and it adds up to walking away with something no other team in my eight years here has had.
“The first regional tournament game we won was 23 years ago in 1995. This was big for us, it has been a long time since we have been here, and they deserve all the credit.”
Spring Lake took control early in the semifinal matchup behind the stellar pitching of Peets, who took the complete-game shutout while allowing just five hits and one walk, collecting five strikeouts.
Isiah Lindsey scored the Lakers’ first run of the day in the second inning, showing off Spring Lake’s customarily stellar base running. The sophomore shortstop and pitcher legged a double with a hit to the shallow outfield and put the pressure on the Trojan pitcher with a big lead. A pick-off attempt went sailing over the second baseman’s head, allowing Lindsey just enough time to make it all the way home.
Connor Saxe padded the lead in the third inning, reaching base with a single and advancing on a sacrifice bunt by Austin Schubert. Lorimer took over from there, bringing Saxe home with an RBI single.
The fourth and fifth innings failed to produce a Spring Lake baserunner, while Peets pitched himself out of a jam in the fourth, picking up a strikeout and crucial groundout following a double and single.
It took until the bottom of the sixth for Peets to give up his lone walk, following it up with an emphatic strikeout to preserve the Lakers’ precarious 2-0 lead heading into the seventh.
There, they would add a key insurance run. Mason Holmes began the trip around with a single, putting Kenyon Bolling on first as a pinch runner. Chris Saxe then ripped a double, scoring the junior runner from first, aided by a Thornapple error.
With three runs of cushion, Peets finally showed some wear in the bottom of the seventh as he beaned his first batter before giving up a single to put the tying run at the plate with no outs.
The senior responded heartily, using a lethal changeup to earn a strikeout before catching a short pop-up and forcing a groundout to third, retiring three straight batters to record the win.
“Scoring those runs early put the pressure on them,” coach Lindsey said. “They came up empty with runners in scoring position twice because of that. They couldn’t get a hit off Rylan, he was dominating.”
“I’ve been working with a slider and curveball all season but here at the end, my fastball and changeup have been my bread and butter,” Peets said. “If I couldn’t blow it by them, I would throw the changeup to get them that way. It is so comforting to have both those working well. It gave me a lot of confidence out there.”
In the finals, it would be the Lakers playing catch up against West Catholic as the Falcons took advantage of a little title-related nerves from Lindsey in his first regional final start. Lindsey would throw six and one-third innings, giving up seven runs on 11 hits with three walks and one strikeout.
Fellow sophomore Connor Saxe also got his first taste of high-stakes closing, inheriting two runners from Lindsey, who both scored as he gave up one run over his two-thirds of an inning on two hits with one strikeout.
By the end of the third inning, Spring Lake found themselves in a 4-0 hole. They grabbed their shovels in the top of the fourth as they plated three runs to roar back into the game.
It started with a single by David Rumptz, who capitalized on a wild pitch to make it to second base. Peets then continued his stellar afternoon with an RBI double, advancing to third on another wild pitch.
Lindsey then hit the plate with a single, putting Jack Leech on the base path as a pinch runner. With Holmes at the plate, Leech baited a pick-off attempt from the West Catholic pitcher and took off for second base, getting caught in a pickle.
Peets seized the diversion, scoring from third in the chaos, while Leech safely made it to second before finishing his epic trip around the bases on an RBI single by Zack Keyser, closing the gap to 4-3.
The Falcons tacked on another run in the fifth on a Spring Lake fielding error, setting up a wild finish.
Spring Lake finished off West Catholic’s starter in the top of the sixth as Holmes picked up a walk and stormed to third base on a Keyser single before scoring on yet another wild pitch. Connor Saxe then milked another walk, forcing a change at the mound with two outs and two Lakers on base. The runners were stranded, but the score sat at 5-4 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
Determined to avenge their starter, the Falcon bats got hot, grabbing a single off Lindsey before stealing second and earning a walk to put two on base. That was enough for the Lakers, who brought Connor Saxe to the mound from first base to finish off the final two outs. The sophomore picked up a groundout before giving up a two singles for three runs before ending the inning with a strikeout.
With a now 8-4 deficit threatening to end their season, Spring Lake had to score four to continue their historic run. Cunningham got things started with a double, capitalizing on a West Catholic error, then made it to third on a wild pitch. Rumptz then knocked a single to bring him home and close the gap to three. Peets stayed hot with a single to bring the tying run to the plate with one out.
Lindsey sent a fly ball into the outfield for the second out, bringing Holmes to the plate for a desperate at-bat. The junior showcased incredible plate-presence, watching a ball go by with two strikes against him to work his way into a full count.
The next pitch was another chest-high throw but was called a strike to end the run.
“We have always had close games with West Catholic. They got us two back-to-back early in the season, so we really wanted to go out and beat them again,” Peets said of the finals. “None of us wanted to go out. Once we got down, we saw this could be it and we weren’t letting our foot off the gas.
“It means so much to have made it this far. Us six seniors wanted to change the mentality of the team this year and make sure it was a winning mentality. Everyone played their role and gave it their all.”