By Mitchell Boatman

MUSKEGON – The days of great base-stealing champions like Ricky Henderson and Tim Raines – or even the days when high school students recognized those names – are long gone.

But the art of the stolen base is alive and well at Muskegon Catholic Central.

The MCC baseball team has stolen more than 120 bases this season. Leading the way is senior center fielder Cole Charlesworth, who has swiped 34 bases, and has only been caught once.

Cole Charlesworth on the basepath. Photo/Tim Reilly

Charlesworth has helped the Crusaders to a 20-9 overall record this year. MCC is 9-1 in Lakes 8 Conference play and tied for first place with Ludington. The Crusaders will host the Orioles in a crucial doubleheader on Friday.

Charlesworth’s speed allows him to wreak havoc for opposing pitchers.

He has an on-base percentage of .532, meaning he reaches base in more than half of his trips to the plate. When that happens, the Crusaders can almost count on a run, because he will be running and advancing around the diamond.

“He sets the tone for our team as our leadoff hitter, and if he gets on he usually scores,” MCC head coach Steve Schuitema said about Charlesworth.

Charlesworth’s abilities on the base paths were obvious in the recent Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Baseball Tier 2 Tournament, which Muskegon Catholic won by beating Montague 7-4 in the championship game.

MCC had nine stolen bases in that game, including four from Charlesworth.

In the first inning, he singled, stole two bases, and scored on a groundout by teammate Mason Convertini. In the sixth inning he walked, stole second and third, and scored on a throwing error that occurred when the Wildcats were trying to gun him down at third.

Charlesworth reacts after MCC’s win in the GMAA city baseball tournament. Photo/Tim Reilly

Charlesworth said his base-steal success involves more than speed – it comes down to keen observation when he gets on base.

“When I’m at first base I just try to read the pitcher as best as I can,” said Charlesworth, a four-year varsity player who was a member of MCC’s state championship baseball team in 2015. “I try to see if the pitcher has tried to throw over (to first base to hold him on), and I try to see how the pitcher’s pickoff move is.”

Charlesworth also uses his blazing speed to patrol center field for the Crusaders.

“Playing center field, I have to cover a lot of ground, and if I wasn’t fast, I wouldn’t be able to,” he said.

The center field position has a strong history at MCC. Charlesworth has been preceded by three All-State selections during Schuitema’s tenure as coach, including his immediate predecessor, Zach Winzer.

Charlesworth lived up to that legacy by becoming a Division 4 first-team All-Stater as a junior last season.

“I have played under great center fielders in my four years of high school,” he said. “But I don’t feel any pressure. I just want to go out and play the game how I usually play it.”

Charlesworth prepares for a pitch. Photo/Tim Reilly

The Crusaders star doesn’t limit himself to the baseball diamond. Charlesworth is a four-sport varsity athlete. He has been a part of MCC’s state championship runs in football, a member of the Crusaders soccer team that advanced to the state finals last fall, and plays hockey for Reeths-Puffer, which has a co-op relationship with MCC.

Schuitema says Charlesworth’s best work comes in the spring.

“I am probably prejudiced, but I think baseball is his best sport, and the sport in which he has the highest ceiling,” the coach said.

Charlesworth agrees, and plans to play baseball at Muskegon Community College next season.

“I do think baseball is my best sport,” he said. “It’s the sport that I have put the most time into, and it’s shown.”

“They are getting a great player,” Schuitema said about the college. “If he continues to work hard, I am certain that he will be playing at a four-year school, after playing at Muskegon Community College.”