By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – Muskegon Catholic Central baseball coach Steve Schuitema figured this might be the year that his team’s regional championship streak came to an end.

That seemed like a reasonable expectation, because the Crusaders were very inexperienced, with nine sophomores and freshman on their 15-player tournament roster.

But the young Crusaders surprised their coaches and fans with strong play throughout the season, and added an exclamation point on Saturday by winning a Division 4 regional title with a pair of victories on their home field.

First MCC rallied to beat Potterville 3-2 in the semifinals, then downed Fowler 7-3 in the regional championship game.

It was the fourth straight regional title for MCC, which now advances to Tuesday’s state quarterfinals against Beal City at Rockford High School at 5 p.m.. MCC has been eliminated in the quarterfinals for the past two seasons.

Zachary Fooks lays down the bunt for MCC. Photo/Tim Reilly

“If somebody would have told me we would win regionals this year, I probably would have died laughing,” said Schuitema, whose team is now 23-9 on the season. “I knew we had some good young kids, but usually it takes some time for things to gel, but things have just come together for us.

“We’re playing five sophomores and two freshmen (on a regular basis), and I never thought we would do this. But we’re a really good team when Riley pitches.”

Schuitema was referring to senior pitcher Riley St. Amour, who was the star on Saturday, pitching the victory in both games and scoring the winning run in the semifinal game.

St. Amour was brilliant on the mound in the championship game, tossing six full innings of shutout ball while only giving up two hits and one walk. He didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning.

His calm domination gave his teammates time to get their bats going and take command of the game in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

“I just try to keep my composure,” St. Amour said about his pitching performance. “I never get nervous when I’m pitching. That’s when I feel most comfortable. I just do my thing.

“I knew we had the talent to do this, it was just a matter of whether we came to play or not. We have so far. (The underclassmen) are just as capable as anyone else. We have a lot of confidence coming out of this.”

The championship game was scoreless until the third inning, when MCC’s Jackson Riegler reached base on an infield single, Riley St. Amour walked, and Fowler committed two errors that allowed the Crusaders to plate a run.

The Crusaders celebrate after being awarded the regional trophy. Photo/Tim Reilly

The Crusaders added two more runs in the fourth when Riley St. Amour drew a bases-loaded RBI walk, then Carson St. Amour added an RBI single.

They scored twice more in the fifth. Max Price walked, took third on a double by Josh Holden, then scored on a pass ball. Holden scored on an RBI groundout by Carson Bleicher.

The Crusaders’ last two runs came in the sixth inning when Riegler reached on a bunt single, Riley St. Amour walked and Price drilled a two-run double to left field.

Riley St. Amour gave up a single to Fowler’s leadoff hitter in the bottom of the seventh and left the game to a standing ovation. Fowler pushed across three runs before Bleicher, who came on in relief, managed to get three outs to preserve the victory.

Riegler finished with three hits for the Crusaders in the title game while Bleicher and Price each had two RBIs.

In the semifinal game, Potterville grabbed a 2-0 led in the first inning before the Crusaders rallied for the victory. They scored one run in the first and one in the sixth, them got the win in the seventh when Riley St. Amour singled, Carson St. Amour bunted him to second, and Holden brought him home with a walk-off hit.