Saline’s baseball season ended in the MHSAA Division 1 semifinals Friday.
The Hornets jumped to an early 3-0 lead but fell to the Hudsonville Eagles, 4-3.
After a solid start, the Hornets bats went stopped finding the gaps. Hudsonville, on the other hand, had a couple rallies extended by good bounces, questionable calls and couple Saline mistakes.
“I am extremely proud of how we played all season. Today was no different. They did exactly what we asked them to do," said coach Scott Theisen. "It's tough when you get beat and you don't play as well as you want or up to your expectations, but I don't have any regrets and I told them that."
The Hornets opened scoring in the second. Austin Hauck led off with a single. One out later, Michael Hendrickson ripped Blake Hibbits’ pitch into the left-centerfield gap to score Hauck. With two outs and a full count, Patrick Price drilled a double to right-centerfield, scoring Hendrickson for a 2-0 lead.
Saline pitcher Justin Goike looked good in the bottom of the inning. After the leadoff hitter reached base on a throwing error and then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, Goike fanned the next to hitters.
In the third, Saline added to its lead. Hammond reached base when the shortstop’s throw pulled the first basemen off the bag. He went to second on Trent Theisen’s infield grounder. With two outs, Austin Hauck walked. White put the Hornets up 3-0 when, after fouling off two two-strike pitches, he doubled down the third base line. After Hendrickson was hit by a pitch to load the bases, AJ Korzuck line a pitch that, unfortunately for Saline, was right at the leftfielder. The Hornets were rolling.
The Eagles answered in the bottom of the inning. Goike got Hank VanOoyen to pop out. Logan Magsig followed with a hooking line drive that got past Stefan Hastings in leftfield for a double. Brandon Cable hit a chopper to second. White’s throw to AJ Korzuck at first appeared to beat the base runner, though it looked awkward, and Cable was ruled safe.
The play brought Theisen out of the dugout to talk to the umpire.
"I thought he was on the bag. If nothing else, the kid stepped on (Korzuck's foot). It's a bang-bang play. Those calls are going to happen. They get magnified by the importance of the game," Theisen said.
The Hornets’ bad fortune continued when Hunter Prince’s chopper bounced over third basemen Brent Vaccaro to load the bases. Tyler Baar followed with a two-strike line drive single to center to score a run. Zach Bohl followed with a sac fly to center to make it 3-2. The inning ended with a fly to rightfield.
"(Starting pitcher) Justin (Goike) handled it well and didn't let it explode," Theisen said.
Just as the Eagles were finding ways to scratch out runs, the hot Hornet bats went cold.
In the bottom of the fourth, Hudsonville plated two more runs. Dakota Prince led off with a single up the middle. He took second on a sacrifice bunt. Goike fanned VanOoyen for the second out. But the Eagles got another seeing-eye hit. Magsig hit a blooper off the end of the bat past first base in shallow right. A run scored to make it 3-3. Cable was intentionally walked to put runners at first and second. Hunter Prince followed with another opposite-field double down the rightfield line to make it 4-3.
In the top of the fifth, Goike was hit by a pitch to lead off. Magsig replaced Hibbits on the mount and retired the Hornets in order, getting two of them on called strikes.
Saline threatened in the sixth. Korzuck led off with a single between short and third. Price bunted him over to second and then Korzuck took third on a pitch in the dirt. Pinch hitter Andrew Valentine walked to put runners on the corners with one out and the top of the order at the plate. With Hammond up, the Hornets tried to squeeze Korzuck in. Hammond couldn’t make contact and Korzuck got caught in a run down between third and home before being tagged out at the plate.
“We've had some success with (the squeeze) this season. It's worked for us. Gage is a good bunter. We just didn't get it down," Theisens said. "It was a big play. It's worked for us and we were just going to keep playing our game.
Courtesy runner Hastings took second on the play but went no further as Hammond struck out swinging.
Hammond was angry after the at bat and came up with one of two great defensive plays in the bottom of the sixth.
After a leadoff single, Hibbits hit a high chopper to third. Vaccaro fielded it cleanly and the Hornets competed the double play.
The next hitter walked. Then Hunter Prince smashed a line drive to center that was tailing to right. But the speedy Hammond tracked it down to prevent an extra-base hit and potential run.
"It's a funny game. That (catch by Hammond) gave us a chance. If that drops we could be down two," Theisen said. "And in the seventh we hit two on the button right to people."
The Hornets hit balls hard but couldn’t score in the seventh. Trent Theisen's liner was stopped on a great play at short. Hauck hit the ball hard, but right to the centerfielder.
"Sometimes, that's baseball. You play a one-game elimination tournament, sometimes it works in your favor, when plays like that happen, sometimes it doesn't," Theisen said.
Senior Justin Goike took the loss. He allowed four runs on nine hits and a walk while striking out four. Goike, who is hoping to continue his ball playing days in college, said Hudsonville made the plays when they had to.
"You have to give them credit. Good teams find ways to make plays," Goike said. "It's tough to lose a game like this, because we had our opportunities. We had a great year, though."
Sophomore Michael Hendrickson, who came up with a couple big hits in the state tournament, said it was tough to come up short. But he said it was a great learning experience.
"The state tournament definitely has an entirely different level of intensity. It feels like a different game," said Hendrickson. "We came up short but expect us back. We'll be back."