By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

Maybe the athletes at Muskegon Catholic Central are growing accustomed to the big stage.

After all, it was only six months ago that many of them played at Ford Field and won the Division 8 state football championship.

Nick Holt dives in headfirst at home plate to complete the inside the park home run for MCC. Photo/Tim Reilly

Nick Holt dives in headfirst at home plate to complete the inside the park home run for MCC. Photo/Tim Reilly

So when a lot of the same players ran out of the dugout to play at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, nobody seemed to have the jitters.

The Crusader baseball squad relaxed and turned in a typical performance en route to a 12-3 victory over Grand Rapids Catholic on the home field of the Detroit Tigers.

MCC, which is also a contender for a state baseball crown, improved to 20-1 on the season.

“I was kind of wondering how they were going to do in these surroundings,” said MCC Coach Steve Schuitema. “But the way it turned out, I was probably more awestruck than they were. I was looking around, checking things out, and they just went out and played their normal game.”

Playing loose had to be challenging for the Crusaders.

They had to wait until early this morning to see if they were even going to make the trip. The forecast in Detroit called for rain, so they weren’t able to confirm their plans until a phone call came around 8 a.m.

They got on the bus and hit the road around 12:30 p.m., which left just enough time to make the 3 1/2 hour drive to Detroit, get in the stadium, have pictures taken, then warm up for a few minutes before the 5:30 p.m. game.

But all the rushing around and playing in a Major League Baseball stadium didn’t bother Nick Holt. The junior left hander took the mound in the first inning and stuck out the side, helping everyone on his team relax.

He ended up tossing six innings while striking out 14.

Holt also had a huge day at the plate, with three hits, including an inside-the-park home run, and three RBIs.

Holt said he experienced a huge adrenaline rush at the start of the game, which allowed him to focus and bear down.

“It was probably more adrenaline than nerves,” Holt said. “It was just so much fun going out there to play. Right before the first pitch I just sort of turned around and took everything in. It was awesome.

“I can’t really describe what it’s like down there on the field. It’s a whole different perspective. It was something we’re never going to forget as a team.”

The Crusaders took control of the game by scoring four runs in the second inning and six in the third.

Other offensive standouts for MCC were Anthony Woodard and Griff Seymour, who each had a hit and scored two runs; Zach Huston, who had a hit and scored a run; and Jacob Holt, who had a hit and two RBIs.

MCC was one of eight high school teams invited to play at Comerica Park Thursday.

The main event was the annual Detroit Catholic League baseball championship, but other games were added to spice up the day.

The Crusaders got the invitation last fall, when MCC Principal Todd Geerlings and Athletic Director Erich Adams met the head of the Detroit Catholic League at the football finals at Ford Field.

Muskegon Catholic's baseball team stands as a team at home plate after its win over Grand Rapids Catholic. Photo/Tim Reilly

Muskegon Catholic’s baseball team stands as a team at home plate after its win over Grand Rapids Catholic. Photo/Tim Reilly

“He asked if we had any other good teams besides football,” Schuitema said. “(The school officials) said we also have a pretty good baseball team, and he asked if we might want to play at Comerica Park. We accepted right on the spot.”

MCC dressed 20 players for the game, including four call-ups from junior varsity, and all 20 got a chance to play.

The Crusaders were the home team, so they had the thrill of sitting in the Tiger dugout along the first base line. They didn’t get to meet any Tigers, since the big league club was on the road in Boston.

A few players got to peek inside the Tiger clubhouse, but it was locked, so they didn’t get the grand tour, Schuitema said.

“It was real fun,” Schuitema said. “You see it on TV, and today we had the chance to see where everything is. The benches in the dugout have heaters underneath them. I didn’t know that.

“I’m real happy the kids got to have this experience. It’s something they’ll remember for a long, long time.”

Senior co-captain Alex Lewandoski said the best part of the experience was winning a game at Comerica Park.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I played at Ford Field and now Comerica. It’s kind of crazy. We were really excited, just to be able to play on a field that nice. But with our team, we always manage to relax and play well. We just went out and had fun.”

The other senior co-captain, Adam Gallow, said playing on a big league field was a “whole different world, as opposed to watching a game there and wishing you could be out there one day.”

“Being in the dugout, playing on a nice field where you know how the ball is going to bounce, the stadium atmosphere – it was great to experience the whole shebang.”