By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – During the college baseball season, Connor Seymour plays for Davenport College.
That’s because most of them play for the River City Rapids, the other top club in the Michigan Summer Collegiate Baseball League.
The Clippers and Rapids have gone nose-to-nose for league superiority for the past two seasons. Last year River City won the title, beating Muskegon on the last game of the season.
But the Clippers got even on Monday, beating River City 5-3 in front of a big crowd at Marsh Field to clinch the 2015 league championship.
Monday’s win was extra sweet for Seymour and his teammates, because it gave the Clippers a 4-4 season record against River City. The Rapids were the only team in the league that the Clippers did not dominate this year.
Seymour had a double and scored two runs in the game. He made two errors in a scary ninth inning, but also caught the pop-up that ended the game and clinched the title.
“This is unreal, especially after growing up in Muskegon and being a hometown kid,” said Seymour, a Muskegon Catholic graduate who will be a senior this fall at Davenport. “It’s something a lot of local kids dream about, playing under the lights and winning a championship at Marsh Field.
“Playing against my college teammates, I think it’s more fun, honestly. They knocked us out last year and they battled throughout the season this year, too. They’re a really good team. It does feel good to beat them, honestly. We tied them in (head-to-head) wins but we won the league.”
The Clippers are now 21-6 with four games remaining. Even if they dropped their remaining four games, they would only have 10 in the loss column, one fewer than second place River City, which dropped to 17-11.
Winning the title was special for Clippers Manager Walt Gawkowski, who has watched his players struggle with fatigue and a prolonged hitting slump in recent weeks.
The Clippers could have folded up tent down the stretch and watched their once commanding league lead slip away, but instead they pulled together at crunch time, sweeping a doubleheader from the third place Michigan Monarchs on Saturday, then clinching the title against River City on Monday.
“I’m just really proud of the guys, they played really hard,” Gawkowski said. “They are tired. Some of the are going on 100 games (since the beginning of the spring college season).
“What really helped us tonight was seeing so many people come out to Marsh Field and support this team. I couldn’t be more proud of this community for the support they gave us. It means so much. When we look up there and see the stands pretty much full, it’s pretty cool.”
The Clippers had several stars in the big win, including starting pitcher Kyle Lawson, who pitched six scoreless innings and only allowed three hits.
Brandon Melchert pitched two scoreless innings of relief for Muskegon, while Nick Holt pitched the ninth to seal the win.
“It felt good to get out there and get the win and win the league,” Lawson said. “Last year we had the championship game against them (River City) it feels good to beat them this time.”
Outfielder Jason Ribecky had two hits and two RBIs for the Clippers while Matt Mandes and Ryan Mergener each knocked in a run.
“It feels great and good for this community,” Ribecky said. “We are trying to bring baseball back to Muskegon and I think we did a pretty good job. It was nice to win the league for all of these great fans who came out.”
The Clippers opened the scoring with three runs in the bottom of the third inning.
Mergener hit an RBI single, scoring Connor Glick, who led off the inning with a single. Seymour also scored on the play on a throwing error by Rapids outfielder Mike Meade.
Ribecky gave Muskegon a 3-0 lead with an RBI single, scoring Mergener.
Muskegon added two important runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a 5-0 lead.
Adrian Anderson led off the inning with a single and Seymour doubled to move Anderson to third. Matt Mandes hit an RBI single, scoring Anderson, then Ribecky hit a sacrifice fly that scored Seymour.
The Rapids made things interesting in the top of the ninth inning by scoring three runs against relief pitcher Holt.
Brandon Cable and Kurtis Baker each scored on errors, then Jonah Lakatos knocked in a run with a single, pulling the Rapids within two runs with only one out.
But Ryan Butzer flied out to center field and Gage Hammond popped out to Seymour to end the game and clinch the league title.