by RANDY GREGORY
With runners on the corners, two down and two strikes on Brent Showers, the Rockford Rams were staring at a 5-4 deficit to Northview in the top of the seventh inning in the Division I district final at Rockford on Saturday, June 2. Their dreams of defending their state championship from 2011 couldn’t have been more precariously perched as Brower Snedeker prepared to deliver the potentially decisive pitch for the Wildcats. Just prior to the ball leaving the pitcher’s hands, the home plate umpire screamed “Balk!” and the crowds and teams on both sides erupted simultaneously in stunned disbelief. The balk allowed Shain Showers to trot home with the tying run.
An inning later the Rams tallied another run to take a 6-5 lead that Kory Young made stand up and the Rams advanced to next week’s Division I regional at Jenison.
“That was a battle between two very good teams out there today,” said Rockford Coach Ian Hearn. “We started out playing baseball the ‘Rockford way’ in the first inning, but then in the second, third and fourth innings things weren’t going our way. We kind of lost our way and started pressing for a while. It took us till late in the game to regain our focus and it was almost too late. This is a determined bunch and I am proud of the way they rallied in a difficult situation to move ahead.”
The first inning featured a barrage of Ram hits that didn’t stop until the Rams pushed across four runs. Drew Farmer led off with a single that was followed by arun batted in (RBI) double from Showers. Tony Dileo followed with another double that made it 2-0. An Ian Stankus ground out made it 3-0. Brent Showers ripped yet another double and was chased home with another RBI single from Steven Powell.
It was 4-0 Rockford and it appeared for all intents and purposes that the rout was on. Farmer perpetuated those thoughts with a beautiful diving catch in center field in the bottom half of the first.
But Snedeker came on to start the second inning and stymied the Rams over the next five and two-thirds innings. Meanwhile, the Wildcats chipped away with two runs in the second inning, and one run per inning in the third, fourth and fifth. Just like that, it was a 5-4 Northview lead and the pressure mounted as hard hit ball after hard hit ball from the Rams somehow found a Wildcat mitt.
Young came up huge on the mound for Rockford to give the Rams a chance. After coming on with one out in the fourth, Young allowed only a single unearned run over the duration of the contest to garner the win.
“Kory is what we normally call a bridge pitcher,” said Hearn. “He usually comes on to finish out an inning and bridges the gap to another pitcher. But today he was much more than that. He had good stuff today and did a fantastic job to keep us in the game.”
The winning rally in the eighth inning started with Powell’s third single of the game. He was sacrificed to second by Steven Bilski, with the added benefit of a Wildcat error that allowed Bilski to reach first safely as well. Brandon Nostrant was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. Farmer followed with a sacrifice fly that plated the winning run. Young did the rest and the Rams advanced while wiping their brows at the same time.
Bilski also had three singles and Dileo added a single to his first inning double to pace the Ram offense.
Saturday’s opener against Greenville was won in a decidedly different manner for Rockford. The Rams scored 10 runs in the fourth inning en route to a 16-0 mercy rule shortened victory. B. Showers went the distance on the mound while fanning seven and allowing only two hits. Ronnie Searl and Stankus both had a pair of hits to pace the offense. Powell had a three-run triple and Farmer and B. Showers added a triple and double respectively.
“Brent Showers is a competitor,” said Hearn. “He pounded the zone with his fastball and was in command from the start for us.”
Rockford swept a doubleheader from Otsego on Tuesday, May 29 to prep for the districts. The Rams won the opener 9-2 and the second contest 8-4. B. Showers was the winner in the opener and Alex Hertel won the nightcap. S. Showers had three hits in the first game and Nostrant went two for two. Searl cranked a home run and Dileo, Stankus and B. Showers added doubles. Searl and Stankus had a pair of hits each in the second game to pace the offense.
Rockford (29-4) will face OK Red foe Grand Haven in a regional semifinal at Jenison on Saturday, June 9. The other half of the bracket will feature a battle between Hudsonville and Lowell. The two winners will then square off around 3 p.m. for the right to advance to the quarterfinals the following Tuesday, June 12 at Central Michigan University.