By Nate Thompson

JENISON – The games the Mona Shores baseball team played in on Tuesday were the type that often determine postseason championships – well-pitched and close.

As it turns out, they’re also playing a big factor in the O-K Black Conference championship race between the Sailors and the Jenison Wildcats.

The two conference leaders were involved in a pair of tight pitching duels at Jenison High School, with the Sailors taking the opener 2-0, behind a complete-game gem from senior pitcher Connor Vallie. The Wildcats bounced back with their own shutout in Game 2, with starter Caden Elenbaas limiting the Sailors to just three hits in a 5-0 final.

Conner Vallie delivers the pitch for Mona Shores in Game 1. Photo/Jason Goorman

The teams are now tied at the top of the conference standings with two losses apiece. That sets the stage for a potential title game on Thursday, with the Wildcats visiting the Sailors for a single game.

“(Jenison) still has a doubleheader with Reeths Puffer next week, so hopefully (R-P) can take at least one from them, but at the same time, I’d like to take care of our own business and not have to rely on anyone else,” said Mona Shores coach Brandon Bard, whose team is now 21-6 overall. “Thursday should go a long way in determining a champion. In these types of games, moments are tense. Every one of them.”

Mona Shores welcomed junior Caden Broersma back to the lineup after injuring his knee in a contest against Reeths-Puffer in late April. He made his presence felt in the opener against the Wildcats, connecting on a huge two-out RBI single in the sixth inning to give the Sailors their final margin of victory.

“He’s still hurting and he’s trying to get stronger,” Bard said. “It was nice having him back out there. He gave us a lift.”

Mona Shores had only three hits in Game 1, but jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a two-out RBI hit from Jackson Neely, which scored Kolbe Trovinger.

That was enough run support for Vallie, who Bard said was unflappable against a dangerous Wildcats lineup full of speedy left-handed hitters.

Brady Rose rounds third base to put Mona Shores up 2-0 in Game 1. Photo/Jason Goorman

“He threw extremely well,” Bard said. “His change-up was phenomenal. A right-handed pitcher with this many lefties in the lineup, we knew his change-up would have to be good. It was nice to see him step up as a senior.”

The Sailors made consistent, solid contact against Elenbaas in the nightcap, but never could find the gaps or holes in Jenison’s defense.

Jenison took a 1-0 lead in the second on a sacrifice fly, then plated three more in the fourth inning.

With one out in the inning, the Wildcats appeared to get a break on a close play at home that Bard thought was an out. That snowballed into a pair of tough hits that found the grass in the Sailors’ outfield – a bloop single to left that fell in front of Neely, and a long fly that right fielder Max Spognnolo battled in the sun and dropped in front of the fence.

“There were a couple calls, a couple plays, we make a couple mistakes and you compile that,” Bard said. “(Starting pitcher) Brady (Rose) should have been out of that inning with a 1-0 game, next thing you know they’ve got four on the board. You give these guys a two-, three-run lead and they can open the playbook up and start running. They’re very fast up top.”

Rose pitched 4 ⅓ innings, and was relieved by Spognnolo in the fifth. He allowed just one hit to the Wildcats the rest of the way.

Mona Shores finished with just three hits in Game 2 – a bunt single by Rose, and singles from Diego Pena and Aaron Piasecki.