By Nate Thompson

MUSKEGON – Despite the many great things that the Muskegon Catholic baseball team achieved a year ago, an opponent’s trick play stands out as one of the most memorable events.

It was a play the Crusaders would probably rather forget.

MCC baseball leaders: (top from left) Nick Holt, Anthony Woodard, Jacob Holt. (front from left ), Zach Huston, Zach Windsor.

MCC baseball leaders: (top from left) Nick Holt, Anthony Woodard, Jacob Holt. (front from left), Zach Huston, Zach Windsor.

In the sixth inning of the Class D regional championship game, Beal City orchestrated a hidden ball trick – complete with tremendous acting jobs by several players – and fooled a Crusader runner into an inning-ending tag out.

The pitcher faked a pickoff throw to second, the infielders covering the bag jumped as though the ball was overthrown into the outfield, and the runner finally bolted for third. But the pitcher still had the ball and the runner was doomed.

Crusaders’ players and coaches say it wasn’t the deciding factor in the game, but it was a negative jolt in a 3-1, 10-inning loss that ended the Crusaders’ sparkling season at 29-2.

“Any loss is disappointing, but the way I look at it is, we played a really good team,” said MCC senior Nick Holt, one of the area’s top returning players. “We just came up a little bit short. If we had a few bounces go our way, it’s a different outcome. But we didn’t get enough hits and we didn’t cash in our opportunities.”

Fortunately for MCC, seven starters return from last season’s outstanding team, so the chance to cash in could come again this spring. The Crusaders are off to a good start with a 2-0-1 record so far this season, with a tie against Holton that was shortened due to darkness.

“We’re fortunate to have a lot of baseball-first kids,” said MCC Coach Steve Schuitema. “Plus we’ve got other kids who have had success playing other sports like the state title team in football.

“Since December, every Sunday we’ve been working with 4-5 kids at a time. That’s all we’re allowed in the offseason. It was just a lot of focus on hitting, bunting and getting the fundamental stuff down. We had 4-5 kids show up every single Sunday.”

Nick Holt, a first-team All-Stater, is the Crusaders’ lefty ace pitcher who has tremendous command of four pitches. He forms a potentially dominant 1-2 pitching combo for MCC with senior Zach Huston.

Nick Holt was 7-0 last year with a sparkling 1.45 ERA. Huston was 9-1, with his only loss coming as a result of one inning of relief in the regional game against Beal City.

An intriguing battery for the Crusaders once again will be Nick Holt throwing to his younger brother Jacob Holt, a junior catcher. Jacob Holt has started at the position since his freshman season and is a polished defensive performer and very strong hitter.

Last season Jacob Holt hit .440 with three home runs and 44 RBI in 31 games.

“It’s awesome being able to play with him,” Nick Holt said. “We’ve got that bond together that only brothers have. We’ve been playing on the same team for five straight years. There’s no one that knows me more than him. That allows me to throw with confidence, knowing that there’s no ball that’s going to get by him.”

Schuitema has that type of confidence in several of his players, including centerfielder Zach Windsor, who along with Nick Holt and Huston played as freshmen on the Crusader squad that reached the state semifinals in 2012.

Windor, a speedster on the base paths, was a second-team All-Stater as a sophomore who missed much of last season with injuries. Other key starters for the Crusaders are Anthony Woodard (.460 batting average last seaon) at first base; his brother Dominic Woodard (.315) in the outfield; fellow outfielders Griff Seymour and Nate Jones; and sophomore Devin Comes, who will be the No. 3 starting pitcher.

Comes gave a hint of how good he can be on Monday by pitching a no-hitter in a five-inning game against Holton.

“He’s young, but he’s going to be very good,” Schuitema said of Comes.

Schuitema expects the Crusaders to excel with their speed on the base paths and defensive skills – two traits that helped MCC win a school-record 29 games a year ago. An added bonus for MCC could be improved competition. They will be competing for the first time in the Lakes 8 Conference, which is comprised of significantly larger schools.

“We just need to take it one run at a time this year,” Nick Holt said. “We have to think about getting one run across instead of worrying about diming teams every game. We just have to take care of our business and worry about knocking in the runners in scoring position, and we’ll be fine.”