By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – There were a lot of smiles at Marsh Field on Thursday night, because the Muskegon Clippers were back on the field, playing baseball for the first time since 2019.

But there weren’t a lot of high-fives or fist pumps, because the outcome was not what the Clippers were hoping for.

The visiting Royal Oak Leprechauns ruined the party, scoring three runs in the top of the first inning and never relinquishing the lead. In the end the Clippers fell 7-2 in the season opener, mostly because their bats were cold.

“We had a nice crowd, and I just hope people will come back and give us a chance because I like this roster,” said Clippers Manager Walt Gawkowski, whose team committed two errors. “Once we get more games under our belt and the kids see more live arms, we are going to be fine, and we’ll be much better defensively then we showed tonight.”

Muskegon only managed five hits on the night, and both runs were scored when Wes Mitchell hit a two-run homer to left in the fourth inning. Mitchell finished with two hits while Branden Harrity, Caden Queck and Aaron Hurd had the others.

Clippers’ first baseman Noah Marcoux gets pulled off the bag and reaches to make a tag. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Clippers stuck out 13 times, a fact that did not shock Gawkowski, because some of the guys – particularly those who red-shirted at their colleges this spring and did not play – have not faced competitive pitching in a while.

“I try to remember a lot of our guys, especially the ones that were redshirted, haven’t been in a competitive game since 2019,” the manager said. “Then they come out here and we are asking them to turn around 91 mile-per-hour pitches. That’s not an excuse. We expected to put the ball in play more often than we did. I don’t know how many (strikeouts) we had, but I know it was a lot.”

The Clippers were far more impressive from the mound, with three hurlers combining to strike out 16 Royal Oak batters.

Starter Mitch White, who took the loss, struck out nine in four innings. Travis Keys struck out four in three innings, while Adam Berghorst struck out three in two innings.

The Legrechauns had nine hits in the game.

“I think our pitching is going to be good,” Gawkowski said.

Royal Oak opened the scoring when Zachary Hopman hit a two-run double in the first, then another run crossed the plate on a pitch that got past the Muskegon catcher.

The Leprechauns added another run in the third inning, two in the fourth and one in the seventh.

The Clippers will hit the road for games on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday before returning home for a night game next Wednesday.