By Nate Thompson

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – There have been circumstances off the field with the Muskegon Catholic baseball team that could have crushed the team’s spirits.

The Crusaders should be 12-4 this season after a doubleheader sweep of Orchard View on Friday, but the team had to forfeit four wins recently after inadvertently using an ineligible player. It was the consequence of MCC failing to alert the Michigan High School Athletic Association of a player who transferred into the program.

Josh Huston makes the out at first base for Muskegon Catholic. Photo/Mike Banka

As a result, MCC is now 8-8 on the season.

And even before the season began, the Crusaders were dealt a heartbreaking blow when beloved longtime assistant coach Mike Robillard passed away in mid-February after a brief battle with leukemia.

“It’s felt like the world’s been against our backs sometimes,” admitted senior Bobby Ahern. “But we’re using everything as motivation. That’s our motto this year. We’re playing for Coach Robi. He definitely meant a lot to us.”

The Crusaders have had their ups and downs, battling against a heavy Class A-B schedule through the early weeks of the season, but they feel they’re ready to contend for a Lakes 8 Conference championship and make some noise in the postseason.

They surely looked the part against the Cardinals on Friday, slugging their way to 14-3 and 14-1 conference victories.

“Our hitters showed up today,” said head coach Steve Schuitema. “Every now and then we’ve turned in a stinker, but the kids are playing pretty good ball right now. We’ve got a few gap hitters, and maybe just a couple with home run power, but we’ve got a lot of good contact hitters. That’s what is carrying us.”

The Crusaders jumped all over the Cardinals and starting pitcher Chase Keller in Game 2 of their doubleheader, plating eight runs on five hits in the first inning. Ahern led the attack with five RBIs in the victory that wrapped up after five innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.

Muskegon Catholic’s Ben Treutler and Coach Steve Schuitema wait on the pitch from third base. Photo/Mike Banka

Leadoff hitter Cole Charlesworth also had three hits and scored three runs, and Hai Nguyen had two hits and three RBIs.

The early run support was more than enough for MCC starter Devin Comes, a four-year varsity player. He allowed just three hits to the Cardinals, with the first coming in the fourth inning. He struck out just one batter, but produced a stellar seven ground ball outs and only walked one.

“Devin was our ace last year and he’ll be in that role again this season,” Schuitema said. “Our pitching depth is starting to come along, which is always a concern with a school our size. But we’ve had Riley (St. Amour) step up and our shortstop (An Pham) is our No. 3 pitcher.”

Breeze Ealy had the lone RBI for OV, coming on a single in the fourth,

In the opener, Orchard View had three-straight hits in the first inning and jumped out to a 3-1 lead. But St. Armour settled down on the mound, and the Crusaders’ consistent bats and patience at the plate shook Cardinals’ starter Luis Suarez.

“We’re definitely hitting the ball hard,” Ahern said. “We may not have the typical power hitter, but we drive the ball and get runners on base.”

“I think we have more depth in our lineup this season,” Schuitema said. “We may not be as loaded at the top, but the strength of the team is 1 through 9, or even 1 through 12.”