By Steve Gunn
NORTON SHORES – Sophomore pitcher Connor Belinger kept Mona Shores in the game.
But in the end it was a seasoned senior who nailed down the victory for the Sailors.
Tyler Trovinger, a three-sport standout for Mona Shores, took the mound on Thursday in a pressure situation against Reeths-Puffer.
He calmly got the last five outs, including the last three against the meat of the Rocket batting order, to preserve the Sailors’ 2-1 victory in O-K Black Conference baseball action.
The game was the last of three between the Sailors and Rockets this week.
Reeths-Puffer won the opener on Tuesday 6-4, then Mona Shores pulled out a 7-6 victory in extra innings on Thursday, in a game that was continued from Tuesday.
Mona Shores improved to 7-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. Reeths-Puffer fell to 5-6 and 1-2.
Thursday’s rubber game was a pitching duel between Mona Shores’ Belinger and Reeths-Puffer senior Brody Vanderlinde.
Belinger pitched a great game for 5 1/3 innings, giving up only two hits, walking four and calmly working out of several jams.
But he got in trouble in the top of the sixth, hitting two Rockets with pitches, and left the mound with the bases loaded, one out and the Sailors clinging to a one-run lead.
In came Trovinger, the Sailors’ shortstop, who performed like a seasoned closer.
He coaxed Reeths-Puffer’s Colton Brown into hitting a ground ball up the middle. Freeman, the Sailors’ second baseman, managed to snare the grounder, which appeared to be headed for center field.
He touched second base for the force out, then spun and threw the runner out at first to complete the double play and end the Rocket threat.
In the seventh Trovinger gave up a leadoff single to Collin Houseman, but then retired the last three batters to clinch the victory with the tying run stranded on base.
“He’s even more calm than I am in those situations,” said Mona Shores Coach Brandon Bard about Trovinger. “When you’ve had as much success as he’s had in baseball, basketball and football, you start to get more comfortable and relaxed. You give him the ball in a situation like that, and he’s calm.”
Bard also credited Belanger for his strong start.
“That was his third start for us,” the coach said. “I think the first two were shortened by mercy rules, so this was the first time he pitched an extended game for us. I was very impressed by the way he gave us a chance to win the game.”
Freeman was another hero for the Sailors. He hit an RBI single in the fourth inning, driving in Trovinger in from second base and tying the game 1-1. It was the Sailors’ first hit against Vanderlinde.
He followed with his sixth-inning double play that preserved the Sailors’ margin of victory.
“That was one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen at this level,” Bard said about Freeman’s defensive gem. “It was definitely a game-saver.”
Reeths-Puffer took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Cole Aerts walked, advanced to third, then scored on a pass ball.
Freeman’s fourth-inning single tied the score, then the Sailors took the lead in the fifth on a long sacrifice fly by Eric Nelson that scored Austin Flowers from third.
Vanderlinde took the loss for the Rockets, but hardly deserved it. He pitched all six innings, allowing only one hit with three strikeouts and three walks.
“He pitched awesome,” said Reeths-Puffer Coach Brett Witczak about Vanderlinde. “He had everything working. It was just our bats. We hit it hard at people but just couldn’t find the holes.”