The up-and-coming conference contenders exacted some revenge Thursday afternoon, dishing out the pain to last year’s O-K Red Conference champion Rockford in a 6-1 win at Grand Haven High School.
“Last year, we had a four-run lead against Rockford, and they ended up beating us in the bottom of the seventh,” said Grand Haven head coach John Hall. “They went on to win the conference, and we really felt like we were right there.
“We grew up today. We had Caledonia, the No. 4 team in Division 1, in the same situation last week. We were up 3-1 with six outs left, and we fell apart down the stretch. I didn’t say anything to the girls today about it, but I know they were thinking about that in the back of their minds when we had a two-run lead in the sixth.
“We always talk about having that strong belief in yourself. You can’t become something you’re not if you don’t believe you can do it. These girls played with poise and confidence out there today. It was one of the most complete games we’ve had in a long time. It was pretty special to watch.”
Sophomore Madison Shumaker pulled double duty for Grand Haven, pitching a complete game from the mound, while leading the offense with three RBIs during a 3-for-4 outing from the plate.
“Madison pretty much won the game on her own,” Hall added. “That was an incredible outing by an underclassman. She had stitch marks on her throwing hand after she got hit right on her throwing hand in the sixth inning. She battled through it though and closed out the game.
“She hit all her spots. She was like old-school Greg Maddox out there today. She mixed up her pitches well, she didn’t overpower people, but she was in total control the whole game. She was paining the corners like Picasso. It was a work of art.
“She was a star today.”
Also adding key contributions for the Bucs was junior Baby Hang, who added two hits and two RBIs and Kaelyn Stafford, who added two hits and one RBI and two runs scored.
Rockford scored in the top of the first inning to take a 1-0 lead over the Buccaneers. A few defensive plays by the Rams would hold Grand Haven scoreless through the first frame, but a 2-run double by Hang in the bottom of the second inning gave Grand Haven a 2-1 lead after two innings.
After closing the door on the Rams in the top of the third, Shumaker helped her own cause by ripping an RBI double past the Rockford defense to extend the Grand Haven lead to 3-1.
Both squads would showcase stout pitching and some defensive gems to keep zeros on the board for fourth and fifth innings.
In the bottom of the sixth, with Grand Haven clinging to a two-run lead, Shumaker and Stafford made sure there wouldn’t be any seventh-inning dramatics.
Stafford recorded an RBI single to give the Bucs some momentum, and Shumaker sent the Grand Haven bench into an early celebration, as she blasted a two-run double into the outfield that pushed the lead to 6-1 and left no doubt to the outcome of the contest.
As the Rams tried to string together some hits and spark a rally, Grand Haven junior infielder Ashlyn Hall made a full-extension catch to record the final out of the game with some flair.
The Buccaneers improve to 6-3 overall and will travel to Holland on Saturday for a chance to improve on an already strong start to the season.
“You grow through 38 games, and I’m happy with where we are at after nine games,” added Hall. “We’re just approaching the season as three 12-game slates. We want to continue to get better after each of those slates is over. If we can put together a few strong performances over the weekend, we’ll be well ahead of schedule after the first string of games.
“We’re a really young team with only one senior on the roster, but these kids are all talented. We’re above .500 in the league already, and we are only going to get better as the season progresses.
“This win sends a message to the rest of the conference that we aren’t a fluke and puts us in the thick of things for the rest of the season.”