by RANDY GREGORY
It was only a few short years ago that the Rockford baseball program was viewed as an annual contender for middle-of-the-pack status in the always-difficult OK Red. That perception has changed immeasurably over the last four years, however, as the Rams slugged their way to their third league crown in the last four years.
This week’s punching bag for Rockford was Grandville. Rockford routed the Bulldogs 10-0 at home on Monday, May 21, then jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Wednesday, May 23, before settling for a 7-3 triumph at Grandville.
The pair of wins left the Rams at 13-1 in league play (25-4 overall) and one game ahead of Hudsonville (12-2). The Ram win streak also grew to 11 games and their confidence is growing right in lock step with their improved results.
“Our goal is to get better as the season progresses and we have done that offensively, defensively and on the mound so far this year,” said Rockford Coach Ian Hearn. “GBED [Get Better Every Day] has been our motto for years, and our players realize that pertains to life as well. These young men have gotten better both on the field and off, and to see their growth has been rewarding for our entire coaching staff.”
Monday’s contest was all Rockford from the start. The Rams jumped out to a 4-0 lead after three innings and invoked the mercy rule with a six-run fifth inning that cemented at least a share of the league crown. Brent Showers was dominant on the mound for Rockford, allowing only one hit while whiffing seven and walking only one. Ronnie Searl was the big gun offensively for Rockford with three hits (including a double) and four runs batted in (RBIs). But he had plenty of help from his teammates. Tony Dileo, Drew Farmer, Ian Stankus and Steven Powell all pitched in with a pair of hits to help key the triumph.
The return engagement at Grandville appeared to be headed to the same sort of outcome as the Rams jetted out to a 7-0 lead through the first three innings. But to Grandville’s credit, they held the Rams in check for the balance of the game and tried to chip away. The Bulldogs had the tying run at the plate with two down in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Nick Street came out of the bullpen to record a three-pitch strikeout and earn the save to give Rockford the OK Red title.
Stankus went the first five-and-a-third innings to get the win for Rockford. He allowed three runs on four hits, but struggled with his control while walking six and hitting a pair of batters. Kory Young maintained the lead for the hold before Street came on to secure the win.
Although the skies were clear, the Bulldogs received a heavy dose of “Showers” from the Ram hitters. Senior Shain Showers had three hits, including a double and a home run, while knocking in four runs. The younger of the Showers brothers (sophomore Brent) added a pair of hits, including a double. Farmer also contributed a double to the cause.
In addition to the gratifying league crown, the Rockford varsity baseball team also hosted a clinic for special needs children on Tuesday, May 22. The clinic was in conjunction with Special Olympic Aquatics of Rockford (SOAR) and, according to Hearn, a great time was had by all.
“It was just a wonderful day,” said Hearn. “The weather was great, the children who attended had a great time, and our players and coaching staff had just as much fun as they did. It was just an incredible day for everyone concerned.”
Rockford has one final test left in the regular season before they look to defend their Division I state title from 2011. Otsego will pay a visit to Rockford on Tuesday, May 29 (too late for press) as the Rams will hold their senior day and prepare for the post season. The game will be preceded by a pre-district contest between Kenowa Hills and Northview in the Rockford district. The winner of that game will square off with Grand Rapids Union on Saturday, June 2 in district play at Rockford. The Rams will meet Greenville in the other half of the bracket, with the two winners meeting afterward for the right to advance to regional play.