By Adam Trombley
But the Crusaders had an ace they could play to gain an edge over the powerful Aggies, and his name is Max Price.
Price was masterful on the mound, allowing only two hits with four strikeouts and one walk, leading MCC to a stunning 4-0 upset victory over Beal City and a berth in Saturday’s Division 4 regional finals.
MCC, now 19-9 on the season, will face Marlette on Saturday at Clare High School at 10 a.m.. The winner will advance to a state quarterfinal game later in the day.
Beal City, meanwhile, is packing up the bats, balls and gloves for the season, because the Aggies could not figure out Price.
“Whenever Max pitches, we can beat most teams,” said MCC Coach Steve Schuitema. “When he doesn’t, then you know we’ve got to scrap a little bit more. This is the best team we’ll play, but we used our guy, and as far as I’m concerned there’s not a better player in Division 4.”
Price has pitched well all season, but he was very aware of the challenge he faced against Beal City and rose to the occasion. Only three Aggie batters reached base in the game, which was also a tribute to the MCC defense, which cleanly fielded its chances all night with no errors.
“I knew they were going to be good coming in,” Price said. “We were talking about them all year, and so I knew I wasn’t going to overpower them. I was just trusting my defense. Locating pitches was the number one thing, and just trying to keep them guessing, so I tried to change speeds quite a bit.”
The Crusaders started off the first inning with a double by Tom Kartes and a bunt single from Price. Kartes was on third base when Gabe Johnson dropped a beautiful squeeze bunt that pushed across the first run.
The fourth inning was huge for the Crusaders. A double by Johnson, followed by two walks, allowed Sam Kartes to come up with the bases loaded. A wild pitch allowed one run to score, then Sam Kartes hit a single to knock in another, and MCC led 3-0.
A Price single, two walks, and a timely error allowed the Crusaders to score their fourth and final run in the fifth inning.
The Crusaders managed to get the win with only five hits. Although the MCC bats lagged a bit behind the pitching and defense, the Crusaders used small ball and baseball smarts to take advantage of Beal City mistakes.
“Early in the year we didn’t hit the ball very well, and today we hit just good enough to score a few runs here and there,” Schuitema said. “Really the momentum kind of went our way right off the bat when Kartes led off with a double, and then we got our small game going. Price with a bunt single and then we safety squeezed (Kartes) in. That set the tone, and it just turns out that’s all we needed. I didn’t think so at the time, because that’s a good hitting team.”
Although Price will not be eligible to pitch in the regional final game on Saturday, he is hoping the momentum from the victory will carry over when the games resume.
“We knew this was going to be a challenge, and we did it and overcame it,” Price said. “So now we need to just keep this going, keep the momentum going, keep the energy going, and I think we’ve got a good shot.”