ST. JOSEPH — Although they met in the semifinal round of the June 1 Division 4 district baseball tournament, River Valley and Bridgman played like the trophy was on the line.
And it was.
The Mustangs ended up prevailing 5-1 and went on to capture the program’s first district championship in 14 years.
Coach David Sokolowski noted that The team recently won its first conference title (the BCS White Division) in 15 years.
“We’re hoping to cross off a 17 with the regional,” he added.
Decatur and River Valley are set for a Division 4 regional championship showdown at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 8, in Gobles.
The Mustangs topped No. 2 Muskegon Catholic Central 4-3 in a regional semifinal played Wednesday, June 5, at Holton. River Valley trailed 3-0 into the top of the fourth, after which the Mustangs scored in the next three innings. Matthew Schmidt led with two singles and an RBI. Levi Strauss was the winning pitcher in relief of Schmidt. The Raiders defeated Kalamazoo Christian 4-1 in a regional semifinal played on their home diamond. Decatur scored all of its runs in the fourth inning, led by Justin Gale’s two-run double.
The Bees (16-9) took an early 1-0 lead on June 1 as Donnie Necas drew a second-inning walk and later came home when the ball got away at the plate.
The Mustangs pulled even in their half of the third. Wil Korbel’s led off with a single, Levi Straus put down a sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk was issued to Matthew Schmidt, and a fielder’s choice out at third base brought the frame to the brink of closure before Evan Strefling lifted a high fly ball above the outfield that set off a collision between shortstop and second base. The ball fell and Schmidt scored the tying run.
The bottom of the fourth proved decisive for River Valley.
Kenny Gibson was hit by a pitch to lead things off, Tylar Montgomery bunted him on to second, Korbel was safe at first on a close play, Strauss looked at ball four to lead the bases, Schmidt dropped the baseball into short right field for a run-scoring hit, and Davyd Bronson ripped a two-run shot down the third-base line to make it a 4-1 ball-game.
“I knew that the bases were loaded and I just had to put a ball in play, and I ended up roping one down the line,” Bronson said.
That was more than enough of a lead for Schmidt and the RV defense to protect (although they would add another run).
Schmidt ended up allowing four hits and two walks while striking out eight.
“I just worked on throwing strikes, trying to throw limited pitches so I could get through the rest of the game, and trusting my defense behind me,” he said.
“Baseball is a game of who makes the most plays, and we did that game,” Sokolowski said. “We had a couple of breaks where they made some mistakes and we took advantage ... against a good team like Bridgman you have to do that.”
The subsequent district title game against host Michigan Lutheran proved anticlimactic as the Mustangs cruised to a 14-0 triumph.
RV tallied five first-innung runs, with Bronson and Montgomery collecting two-run doubles.
Six walks and three hit batters led to six RV runs in the fourth frame.
The Titans had walloped Eau Claire 17-0 in the first semifinal, which was delayed about an hour by lightning).
Strauss scattered three hits while fanning six for the shutout win.
Sokolowski said Schmidt and Strauss have been “just phenomenal” all season.