by RANDY GREGORY
The Rockford baseball team came through the opening salvo of a murderous schedule with a 5-0 record. But it only gets tougher this week as the “Big Boys” of the OK Red square off on Tuesday and Thursday, May 1 and 3, in a home and home series that will decide early supremacy in the conference. That would be Rockford and Hudsonville for the novice baseball fan. And if that weren’t enough, the Rams will travel to Bay City Western on Saturday, May 5, for a tournament against the number three-ranked team in Division I.
Rockford started the week by trouncing Tri-County 15-4 on Monday, April 23. Reid Kelley got the win on the mound and Tim Redder had the big stick at the plate. Redder had three hits and five RBIs to pace the Ram offense. Drew Farmer had a pair of hits, including a triple, and Max Crimp and Kory Young both added doubles.
Next up was a pair of conference games against a dangerous Grand Haven team that was off to a very good start. Tuesday’s contest was a nail-biter from start to finish that saw the Rams eke out a 12-11 win at home when Ram catcher Tony Dileo picked off a Buc runner at first base with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the seventh. The return trip to Grand Haven played out in a decidedly different manner as the Rams led from start to finish in winning 8-2.
Alex Hertel was the winning pitcher in Tuesday’s game for Rockford and Ian Stankus got the tenuous save thanks to Dileo’s heroics. Farmer, Young, Dileo and Stankus all had a pair of hits to pace the offense. Stankus also snagged the win on the mound for the Rams on Thursday while allowing no earned runs over the first six innings. Rockford pounded out 16 hits led by the four-hit showing of Young. Shain Showers, Dylan Postma, Dileo, Stankus and Farmer all chipped in with a pair of base knocks to help keep Rockford firmly in control offensively.
“We persevered through some difficult circumstances to get those two wins,” said Rockford Coach Ian Hearn. “When you walk as many people as we did and toss in several hit batters, it makes things incredibly difficult to come out on top. Grand Haven has a very good team this year and they played very well. But I am also proud of the way we hung in there and found a way to win. That is what good teams do, and I think we can be an excellent team.”
For a breather, the Rams then traveled to Midland on Saturday, April 28, to take on the second-ranked team in the state in Division I in a twin bill. Thanks to a pair of route-going performances on the mound and an opportunistic offense, the Rams swept Midland by scores of 4-3 and 7-3. Kelley tossed the opener to claim his second win of the week while shutting down the potent Charger offense, allowing only six hits. Nick Street allowed only eight hits in the nightcap in an equally impressive performance. Showers doubled in the winning run in the sixth inning of the opener. In the second game, Dileo continued his torrid performance at the plate of late with three hits and Stankus added a double and triple.
The five wins raised Rockford’s record to 13-2 on the season and 6-0 in the OK Red. Hudsonville is also unblemished in league play and the pair of games between the seventh-ranked Rams and sixth-ranked Eagles will showcase two of the top teams in the entire state.
“This was a great week of baseball for Rockford,” said Hearn. “We got a chance to see some really good competition and found a way to get things done even when we weren’t playing our best. We need to have our pitchers work ahead in the count, play solid defense and take advantage of our chances when we get them at the plate to continue progressing as a team. It should be a week of exciting baseball for everyone and we are looking forward to the challenge.”