By Mitchell Boatman
After falling in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tier 2 Baseball Tournament finals last year, the Crusaders topped Montague 5-1 in the championship game at Marsh Field on Saturday to claim their fourth title in six years.
“We had a good day today,” MCC coach Steve Schuitema said. “(I’m) very pleased, very happy with our team. That’s a really good team that we beat, and we played pretty good earlier in the day, too. I’m pretty happy with how we’re doing.”
Crusader pitcher Max Price turned in a gem on the mound in the championship game, tossing a complete game with eight strikeouts and allowing just three hits, four walks and one unearned run.
“When coach told me I had the start, I just wanted to trust my pitches, trust my defense, and do what I can control,” Price said. “We played (Montague) last week, I think I pitched an inning or so and they hit me pretty good. I was trying to overpower and everything. This time I just wanted to go out there and throw like I normally do.”
Schuitema, whose team beat Holton and North Muskegon earlier in the day, said the coaches worked with Price in the bullpen recently and it showed in Saturday’s game.
“We’ve done a couple of bullpens recently with Max,” he said. “We didn’t make any major changes, but we had him kind of gather himself a little bit, and his off-speed is all of a sudden dynamite. He was really good in the final.”
Montague coach Kevin Buchberger said he’s proud of the way his team fought all day. The Wildcats came from behind to walk-off Ravenna 7-6 and knocked off defending champion Oakridge 4-3 in extra innings en route to the title game.
“It’s not an easy day of baseball,” he said. “But the kids fought right to the last pitch. I’m proud of them. They battled the whole game. For them, it was about the whole day.”
Price found himself in big trouble in the first inning. After retiring the game’s opening batter, he allowed two walks and an infield single to load the bases with one out. He rebounded to strike out the next two hitters and didn’t allow another base runner until the fifth inning.
“I’ve been in similar spots,” Price said. “I knew I had to just trust my defense and control what I can control. My confidence went on to the next inning and I got it done.”
The Crusaders, now 17-1 on the season, scored first in the third inning when Carson St. Amour doubled with two outs, stole third and scored on a throwing error on the steal.
“Carson St. Amour, he stole us a run,” Schuitema said. “He stole third on his own there and scored when they threw it away.”
The second run for MCC came in the fourth when Navarre Klint singled home Carson Bleicher. The Crusaders added three more tallies in the fifth. Price singled home St. Amour and eventually scored on a throwing error. Klint knocked in his second run of the game later in the inning, scoring Ryan Gillings.
“I was just thinking ‘Go the other way, I’ve gotta get the runs in for my team,” Klint said of his day at the plate. “In those two-out opportunities, you’ve gotta score the runs.”
The Wildcats scored their lone run with two outs in the seventh. Sam Smith reached on a fielding error and scored on a wild pitch during the next at bat.
Klint led MCC with a single, double and two RBIs. St. Amour had a single, double and two steals. Ryan Gillings added two hits, including a double, and stole a base. Bleicher had a double and Price smacked a single.
Smith, Sebastian Archer and Nick Stever each singled once for Montague. Asher Erickson started on the mound, working two scoreless innings and allowing one hit. Colton Blankstrom took the loss, working two innings while allowing three hits and two runs (one earned). Matt Lipka threw the final two frames and allowed three runs.