by RANDY GREGORY
The preliminaries had been taken care of and the headliners were all set for the highly anticipated showdown between two of the state’s top baseball teams on Saturday, June 9 at Jenison in the Division I regional finals. The 30-4 Rockford Rams had topped a stubborn Grand Haven squad 5-2 and the 27-5 Hudsonville Eagles had beaten back a challenge from a solid Lowell team by a score of 7-3. This would be the rubber match between the two titans, who had split mercy-rule wins on their home fields against each other earlier in the regular season.
Things began promisingly for Rockford as they pushed across three runs in the top of the second inning to jump out to an early lead. But that would be the high-water mark for Rockford, as their usually reliable defense collapsed with stunning regularity over the next two innings. The Eagles scored six runs of their own in the bottom of the second and added five more in the third to assume an 11-3 lead and basically seal the deal and a trip to the Division I quarterfinals. The contest concluded with a 12-4 Hudsonville victory.
“Hudsonville has a very good hitting team and we just made too many errors that gave them extra chances and resulted in runs for them,” said Rockford Coach Ian Hearn. “We had been a very resilient team this year and just battled our way through mistakes. But there were just too many of them today against a team as good as Hudsonville is. The kids fought all the way through till the end, and the team and individual players had outstanding seasons. We need to celebrate this team’s camaraderie and accomplishments and not dwell on a difficult day.”
In Saturday’s opening game against Grand Haven, Rockford showed the resiliency they had exhibited on multiple occasions over the last few years. Grand Haven scored two runs in the top of the fourth inning to take a 2-0 lead. A pair of Ram errors in that frame accounted for both runs, but Rockford answered back immediately with one run of their own in the bottom half of the inning.
Brent Showers drilled a double to left-center that scored Ian Stankus, who had walked, and the Rams were right back in it. Stankus pitched brilliantly in keeping the Buccaneers off the board over the remainder of the game, and the Rams posted the decisive four-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Showers got it started with his second double of the game, and Dylan Postma came in to run for him. Steven Powell laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Postma to third and set the stage for a pinch-hitting appearance for Ronnie Searl. Searl proceeded to drill a double to right-center that scored Postma and knotted the game at 2-2. Brandon Nostrant and Kory Young followed with walks, and with two outs Steven Bilski (who re-entered the game for Searl) gave the Rams a 3-2 lead when he scored on a wild pitch. Shain Showers then added some insurance with a line shot single through the left side that scored Nostrant and Young to make it a 5-2 Rockford lead, and Stankus made sure it stood up in the seventh.
“Ian Stankus threw a real good game for us today,” said Hearn. “He had some great bullpen sessions this week and carried it over into today. He pounded the zone and kept us in the game against a talented pitcher from Grand Haven.”
With the loss, the Rams ended another excellent season with only the second 30-win season in Rockford baseball history. The Rams also captured their third OK Red crown in the last four years for a team that hadn’t won one in the previous 20-plus seasons. That, not a momentary glitch, is what should be remembered for a group of seniors who definitively left their mark on a sport that had gone seemingly forever in accomplishing previously unheard-of heights.