By Mike Mattson
Newaygo senior Ben Milbourne believes there’s no reason for the varsity baseball season to end at this point.
The Lions will face Mancelona Tuesday at noon in the Division 3 state quarterfinals at Traverse City West. The goal is to take the next step toward a state championship.
“If we play our game, we can hang with anybody,”Milbourne said. “We are starting to jell at the right time. Now, we are rolling.”
Newaygo and Muskegon Catholic Central are the two area survivors in the state tournament and hope to advance to the Final Four later this week at Battle Creek’s Bailey Park.
The Crusaders – fresh off winning the school’s first regional crown since 2004 – will face Harbor Beach in Tuesday’s noon Division 4 state quarterfinal at Saginaw Valley State University.
Freshman Nick Holt threw all 10 innings Saturday in the Crusaders’ 6-2 regional semifinal upset over state-ranked Beal City. Holt, the crafty left-hander, totaled 130 pitches.
Senior Connor Seymour pitched the 10-4 regional title victory against Saugatuck and threw 95 pitches. Schuitema said the pitching likely will be handled by committee Tuesday using junior Dom Detorres, Holt and Seymour.
“If I throw either (Holt or Seymour) it will be limited,”Schuitema said. “I will see who wants the ball and go from there.”
Schuitema doesn’t know a lot about Harbor Beach, which defeated 2011 state runner-up Merrill 1-0 in its regional. The Pirates likely will pitch senior ace Jason Hanson, who also is a key hitter in the lineup.
The Crusaders will rely on the leadership of center fielder Jason Ribecky (.410), catcher Stuart Winters, Seymour (.435) and Detorres (.370).
MCC also received a boost from speedy Alex Lewandoski, who’s been injured most of the season and contributed Saturday as a designated hitter.
A win Tuesday will propel MCC into the state semifinals on Friday. The Crusaders will face the winner of second-ranked Decatur and eighth-ranked Concord.
Top-ranked Grosse Pointe University Liggett and third-ranked New Lothrop also are alive and will meet in a dandy quarterfinal.
Schuitema, who plays three freshmen and two sophomores, said his team plans to battle and do whatever it takes to score runs against Harbor Beach.
MCC outhit Beal City 9-5 and hopes to challenge the talented right-hander Hanson on Tuesday.
“We will be ready,” said Schuitema, whose team will leave Tuesday at 7:15 a.m. for the trip to Saginaw Valley.
Newaygo coach Jeff Milbourne doesn’t know a lot about Mancelona, but that’s OK.
“We’ve talked all year, if we take care of what we can do, things will fall into place for us,” said Milbourne, whose son Ben is one of five experienced seniors on the team. “We just want to show up and play to the best of our abilities.”
Benzie Central is the lone common opponent, with Newaygo beating the Huskies 3-1 earlier this season and Mancelona earning a 5-2 victory in the regional semifinals.
The Lions, who defeated Shelby 5-3 for their regional crown, have been relying on solid defense and timely hitting in the state tournament.
Milbourne expects the Lions to face Mancelona senior pitcher Craig Conway. Newaygo likely will counter with Brandon Phillips, with Andrew Middleton and Ben Milbourne available to contribute.
“We have four good pitchers,” Milbourne said. “We can change it up and we’ll do whatever it takes.”
Ben Milbourne (.400) and Phillips (.420) are both four-year starters, with Symon Cronk, Larry Bulson and Damien Longoria starting for three seasons.
Coach Milbourne said that experience should come in handy this week in Newaygo’s quest to make the Final Four.
“I have five seniors who have been together since Little League,” said Milbourne, the 15th-year coach who led Newaygo to its first league title since 1997 and first regional crown. “It’s a calming effect to have them out there for our younger players.
“I’m so excited for the kids,” Milbourne added. “They’ve worked so hard. We will show up and play hard and go from there.”