River Valley has been quietly rebuilding its baseball program over the past few seasons. On Wednesday, the Mustangs made some noise.
River Valley rallied from an early 3-run deficit to stun No. 2 Muskegon Catholic Central 4-3 in a Division 4 regional semifinal.
“It was a monumental win,” River Valley coach David Sokolowski said. “I can’t seem to find words, still, what that win means to us as a program.”
Now the Mustangs will look to keep going. They’ll take on Decatur at 10 a.m. Saturday for the regional championship in Gobles.
In the MHSAA’s new tournament format, the winner advances to the Super Regional at 2:30 p.m. against either Battle Creek St. Philip or Colon. The victor of that game then moves on to the state semifinals.
River Valley won Class C state baseball titles in 1995 and 1997, but prior to this season hadn’t won a district title in 14 years.
“River Valley has a very rich baseball tradition,” Sokolowski said. “In my third year coaching, I’ve been trying to bring that back and teach these boys a culture.
“(On Wednesday) my boys really showed how much toughness they have and how much heart they have. They chipped away and we found ways to slow the opposing offense down.”
River Valley’s next test is another strong program. Decatur has won four state titles under coach Ben Botti, and swept the Mustangs 7-1 and 5-1 in an early-season doubleheader, getting strong performances from pitchers Jakob Southworth and Travis Hunsberger.
“I have a monumental amount of respect for that program,” Sokolowski said. “Coach Botti runs a great, great program. They’re one of the better teams we see every year.”
River Valley didn’t use its best pitchers in that game, as both Matthew Schmidt and Levi Strauss were held out due to injuries. The pair split time on the mound in Wednesday’s win, and both can pitch Saturday.
Sokolowski said that he had enough confidence in Strauss, his No. 2 starter, to limit Schmidt, his No. 1, to 75 pitches to keep him available for Saturday.
Division 2 at Edwardsburg
Two-time defending state champion Lakeshore (21-16) will play Otsego for the regional title at 12:30 p.m.
The winner will play either Grand Rapids Catholic Central or Portland in the Super Regional.
The new tournament format put Lakeshore in a tough pitching position for Wednesday’s regional semifinal with Marshall, but the Lancers won 14-1 and starter Jaidyn Morris threw just 66 pitches, keeping him eligible for Saturday.
“Now it’s all the same,” Lakeshore coach Mark Nate said after Wednesday’s win. “This game here was the different one, and then being rained out on Saturday kind of put us in a pinch a little bit there and we got through it. Now we’ve got (our top three pitchers) all ready to go.
“Either way I’m proud of them, however it ends on Saturday. I guarantee they’re going to be really close games and they’re going to be tough games to win. Hopefully our experience is going to help us through.”
Division 3 at Coloma
Buchanan will take on Bronson in Saturday’s regional final. Also at Coloma, Stanton Central Montcalm will play Pewamo-Westphalia for a Super Regional berth.
“I know (Bronson has) a good team,” Buchanan coach Jim Brawley said. “The are very solid, they beat Parma Western which beat us. They are a very solid team, but we are going to go out and play our game.”
Like Lakeshore, Buchanan’s pitching plans were altered by the weather, as the Bucks had to throw top pitcher Jacob Hoover to beat Berrien Springs in Monday’s district final. Brad VanOverberghe, their No. 2, pitched Wednesday’s quarterfinal win over Parchment.
“Unfortunately the rain hurt us,” Brawley said. “We had to use our No. 1 against Berrien (Springs). But we have a good staff. Our No. 1 will be available for us on Saturday and our No. 3 Gannon (Kutemeier) will be ready.”
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