Rockford baseball gets by Dakota in extras to move on to D-1 state title game

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Online Only | Published June 13, 2019

 Macomb Dakota senior outfielder Patrick Merolla rounds third in a 2019 district round win. The Cougars advanced to the Division 1 state semifinal before falling 3-2 to Rockford High.

Macomb Dakota senior outfielder Patrick Merolla rounds third in a 2019 district round win. The Cougars advanced to the Division 1 state semifinal before falling 3-2 to Rockford High.

Photo by Sarah Purlee

EAST LANSING — A wild game-ending play gave the Rockford High baseball team a 3-2 win over Macomb Dakota in a June 13 Division 1 state semifinal.

Rams shortstop Owen Cairns hit a slow roller to third base and beat the throw to first on an error. The error allowed Rockford sophomore infielder Luke McLean to score the winning run from third base.

“After the third inning, I told the players that with two outs and a runner on second, on any ground ball we were gonna wheel it home and force (Dakota) to make a throw,” Rams coach Matt Vriesenga said following the game. “We’re lucky that came back around in the eighth inning. It helps to have a speedy guy like (McLean) on base. He did a good job getting home.”

Rockford (28-9) advances to face either Birmingham Brother Rice or Portage Northern in the D-1 state title game at 9 a.m. June 15 at Michigan State University. It's the Rams second trip to the title game, after winning the D-1 crown in 2011.

After an uneventful first couple of innings, Rockford got to Dakota senior pitcher Matt Biebuyck in the third. Leadoff hitter Zach Marshall lined a single to center. Two straight sacrifice hits moved Marshall over to third and Rams catcher Cody Sterkenburg laced a single to left field to drive in Marshall and put Rockford up 1-0.

The Cougars put together a bit of a rally in the top of the fourth, with back-to-back two-out hits from junior catcher Jeff Reseigh and junior outfielder Andrew Wouters. Marshall, though, got a strikeout to end the inning and the threat to secure the Rams' 1-0 edge.

Dakota in the sixth solved Marshall. A walk by junior infielder Billy Sawyer, followed by a double off the right field wall from sophomore infielder Greg Guzik gave the Cougars runners in scoring position for just the second time in the game. Dakota junior catcher Jeff Reseigh followed with a single to center field to drive in Sawyer and Guzik, and give the Cougars a 2-1 lead.

Rockford tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out single from senior outfielder Alex Miller. An error allowed pinch-runner Luke McLean to score from second base.

“Our guys got a little dejected after going down 2-1,” Vriesenga said. “That hit from (Miller) was big. That’s a good kid. He went from hitting .180 last year to hitting .380 this season.”

Dakota (21-17-1) in the top of the seventh got a leadoff double from senior outfielder Pat Merolla, who eventually moved to third with one out, but couldn’t get the run across the plate.

“This is a game we were in,” Dakota coach Matt Carley said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win. Rockford is gonna be in the state final, but we were right there.”

Carley talked about his team’s play over the course of the entire season. He said there’s no shock the Cougars advanced as far as they did, but the team struggled at points.

“We felt we had a solid team, but we didn’t play like it at times,” said Carley, who is in his ninth year leading Dakota. “It’s a good deal for us to have gotten this far. I thought the guys played well. We put ourselves in position to win the game and that’s all you can ask for.”

Biebuyck in seven innings allowed the 2 runs and five hits, while striking out six. Only two of those hits came after the third inning.

Marshall in six innings for Rockford surrendered five hits, 2 runs and struck out five.

Vriesenga isn’t surprised by the late-game heroics. The state semifinal win was the fourth extra inning triumph this postseason for the Rams.

“We’ve been in these situations before. We’ve got tough kids and they came through for us today,” Vriesenga said.