The Rams varsity baseball team clinch the State Runner-Up Title in the MHSAA playoffs. ~ Photo by Jeannie Gregory
LANSING – The Rams varsity baseball team enjoyed an impressive playoff run that found them in the MHSAA D1 State Finals, Saturday, June 15. Rockford faced off against plenty of talented teams on their way to the finals. The Rams took down Greenville and Northview by identical 4-2 scores to claim the districts, and then mowed down Grand Haven 1-0 and Byron Center 3-2 to claim regionals. In the Super Regional, the Rams faced off against Flushing and claimed the 5-1 victory. In the State Semi-finals, the Rams claimed the 3-2 victory over Macomb Dakota in eight innings. The Rams then took on perennial powerhouse Portage Northern for the State Championships and ended up on the wrong end of a 10-4 score.
They say that teams learn as much in their losses as they do in victory and show their true character in defeat. Rockford was shown early by Portage Northern that it was going to be a tough game, but the Rams continued to battle. The Huskies jumped out to a first-inning 4-0 lead and made it hard for the Rams to find their footing. That doesn’t mean the Rams rolled over, though. Rockford was facing a 5-0 deficit heading into the bottom of the third when they started to claw their way back. Owen Cairns gave the Rams the spark they needed starting the inning off with a single to left field. The Rockford man on seemed to rattle Portage Northern, and opened up some opportunities for the Rams. A Husky error found Kellen Mayle earning first and Cairns moving to second. Caleb Engelsman put down a sac bunt to move the baserunners and give the Rams their first out. Joe Kelley put the ball in play and reached on an error, earning the Rams their first run by plating Cairns. Cody Sterkenburg was able to get to first on another Husky error, also, with Mayle scoring. The inning closed with Portage Northern holding the 5-2 lead.
The top of the fifth found five Huskies crossing the plate to move the score to 10-2, but the Rams. Battled on. With two outs and a 2-2 count, Ram lefty Zach Schamp sent a screamer to right field for a home run to move the score to 10-3. The Rams were also able to tally another run in the bottom of the sixth, when Grant Martin hit a double to center field with one out, with Brendan Schueller coming in to pinch run. Jack Richardson came up to the plate and put the ball in play, with Schueller advancing to home and Richardson earning first on an error to move the score to 10-4. Isaac Toole smashed a line drive single to right field, and true to the running aggression that has won the Rams games all season, Richardson sped around the base paths to draw a play at the plate and was called out on an extremely close call.
“We ran into a really good Portage Northern team,” shares Ram head coach Matt Vriesenga. “We had two bad innings and that cost us. I am so proud of the accomplishments of this team. To win the OK Red, Districts, Regionals and end State runner up is a fantastic season. However, what I am most proud of is watching our guys after that last game, you could see how much they enjoyed playing for each other.”
As a team, the Rams went 7-for-29, with Schamp going 2-for-4 with a homerun and an RBI and Martin going 2-for-3 with a double to pace the Rams. Also collecting a hit apiece were Kelley, Cairns and Toole. Two Rams pitchers combined for the game. McLean went 3.1 innings giving up five runs on five hits and three walks, while striking out three. Martine went 3.2 innings giving up five runs on seven hits and no walks, while striking out one.
“The raw emotion of our players showed me how much they cared and loved each other,” concludes Vriesenga. “These are lessons that they will take well beyond the baseball field and into the next stages of their life. I am so proud of the senior class who came to play even when their school year was long over, and the underclassmen did a fantastic job as well.”
The Rams ended their impressive season with a 28-10 overall record, a huge cache of hardware and titles, and great memories of a spring season that went deep into the summer to last a lifetime.