Maroons 'Make Most' of 1st Finals Trip

June 18, 2016

By Andy Sneddon
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – When the cart wobbled, Mike Mokma grabbed the wheel.

Mokma allowed four hits and struck out 14 on Saturday as Holland Christian won its first MHSAA baseball championship with an 8-5 victory over Linden in the Division 2 title game at McLane Baseball Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

The Maroons, who finished 36-6 and entered the tournament ranked third, had never made it past the quarterfinal round of the tournament. But they did have the steadying influence of coach Jim Caserta, who led Holland West Ottawa to the Division I title in 2003.

“We tried to take the big experience of the state championship and focus it down to the task,” said Caserta, who is in his third season at Holland Christian. “We told them, ‘Focus on the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball; focus on the little things.’

“They did great and when bad things happened, we didn’t quit.”

Bad things did indeed happen for the Maroons in the fourth inning when they committed three errors and Mokma issued two walks – his only two of the game – and Linden took advantage, scoring all five of its runs for a 5-4 advantage.

Mokma, who has signed with Michigan State, slammed the door after that, setting down the Eagles in order in their final three at-bats. Of those final nine outs, five came on strikeouts. Mokma’s strikeout total was one shy of the MHSAA Finals record 15.

Just two of Linden’s five runs were earned.

“Mike’s super competitive,” Holland Christian catcher David Williams said. “He’s going to grind it out every pitch. He just kept throwing the ball like he does.

“We let him down for a minute, but we got back on the horse. He was sharp today – more than adequate, he was fabulous. He gave us great chance to win, and the bats came around.”

The Maroons tied it 5-5 in the bottom of the fourth inning on Brandon Riemersma’s RBI single, then got the go-ahead run when Riemersma laid down a suicide squeeze to score Chris Mokma in the sixth.

Mike Mokma followed with a two-run double down the leftfield line.

“When we got down, when a couple bad things happened, our guys didn’t panic, and that’s what it takes,” Caserta said. “All year long that’s what we’ve done: Don’t panic and keep grinding and make something good happen.”

Jack Shore allowed nine hits, struck out four and walked two in taking the loss. The fifth-ranked Eagles committed four errors behind him and just three of Holland Christian’s runs were earned.

Coby Curtiss led Holland Christian with three hits including a double.

The title was particularly gratifying for the six seniors on the Holland Christian roster, including Mike Mokma and Williams. The two combined to form a solid battery during all four of their high school seasons.

“We have a strong group of seniors on the team,” said Williams, who is headed to Xavier. “We’re great friends, and we were sitting in the dugout before the game and started looking at each other. It was, ‘Well, we’ve played a lot of ball together. This is our last game as teammates. Let’s make the most of it.’”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Holland Christian celebrates its first baseball championship Saturday morning at McLane Stadium. (Middle) Mike Mokma prepares to deliver during another winning performance for the Maroons.

No Runs, No Hits: East Jordan Aces Toss 4 Straight Shutouts, 3 Straight No-Hitters

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 17, 2024

Playing shortstop this year for East Jordan High School admittedly has become rather boring at times.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThere hasn’t been a whole lot of action at what’s usually the busiest spot in the infield — no matter who is playing it.

Junior Eli Burns knows that better than anyone. He is the Red Devils’ regular shortstop. He also pitches.

Ryder Malpass knows what it’s like to play short this season as well – he’s normally in the spot when Burns is on the mound.

But he also has a feel for how little the shortstop does regularly for the Division 4 No. 16 Red Devils from his usual spot at catcher – receiving behind the plate for a pitching staff averaging almost two strikeouts per inning. 

Just recently, East Jordan put together three straight no-hitters and four straight shutouts.

“It’s good,” Burns said of playing short. “When you have confidence with your pitchers you don’t have to worry about the ball being hit to you that much.”

Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. Malpass, a junior, started the shoutout string himself with a 4-0 win over Bellaire last week, when he earned the win throwing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts while going 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and RBI. Junior Korbyn Russell closed out the game.

Then Burns started the no-hitter run in the second game that night with Bellaire, a 6-0 Red Devils win. Burns had 10 strikeouts and just a single walk allowed. He also tripled in the game.

This week the no-hitter string continued with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Boyne City. Russell and senior Lucas Stone threw the Red Devils’ third and fourth no-hitters of the season.

Stone threw a perfect game across six innings. He struck out 12 batters on just 70 pitches and also went 2 for 3 with an RBI against the Ramblers. Russell earned the 1-0 win over Boyne City with 5 1/3 no-hit innings behind 11 strikeouts and with just a lone walk allowed. Stone followed Russell to pick up the save for the Red Devils, now 13-9-1 overall on the season and 6-4 in Lake Michigan Conference play.  

Russell is 6-2 on the season with two saves. Going into Thursday’s game with Charlevoix, he had struck out 92 batters over 42 innings while compiling a 0.86 ERA. Stone is 5-2. Before suffering his second loss of the season to the Rayders, his ERA was 1.17 and he had fanned 38 in 36 innings of work. Burns has racked up 17 strikeouts so far in just over 14 innings.

“It’s pretty special to be a part of something not many teams can do,” Russell said. “We have a special group of pitchers to get the job done.”

Stone credits the Red Devils’ defensive play for the pitching staff’s success.

“Our defense has helped the pitching a lot because they don’t make a lot of errors,” Stone said.  “It makes it a lot easier when you know they are going to make plays behind you.”

Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch.East Jordan came into this week beginning to approach the state records for consecutive shutout innings and games. That ended yesterday in twin bill losses to Division 3 No. 11 Charlevoix. But the Red Devils still can chase the national record of nine no-hit games in a season. (No official record is kept for no-hitters by a Michigan high school team in a season.)

There is also no known record of any East Jordan team racking up three no-hitter wins in a row.

“I don’t think there’s been any stretch with three no-hitters in a row, so that is pretty special,” noted East Jordan coach Adam Grybauskas. “We’re kind of picking up where things were last year and trying to build on last year’s success and make it even better this year.”

The Red Devils captured a Division 4 District championship in 2023 and then a 9-6 Regional Semifinal win over Gaylord St. Mary. The season came to an end in the Regional Final with a 2-0 loss to Painsdale Jeffers.

Russel, Stones and Burns were on the pitching staff last year as East Jordan made that run. The Red Devils will host the District tournament this year as familiar opponents Bellaire, Central Lake and Ellsworth will vie to stop East Jordan’s attempt at repeating as champion. The doubleheader loss to undefeated Charlevoix ended the Red Devils’ hopes of sharing the LMC title with the Rayders.

“I think we’ve played a little bit better competition this year,’ Grybauskas said.  “Our focus this year is taking each doubleheader at a time, and try to get better each week.

“It’s really been game by game and week to week,” he continued. “You’re always looking to do better than last year so obviously that will be something we’ll talk about in the future.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) East Jordan’s Lucas Stone winds up during a game. (Middle) Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. (Below) Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch. (Photos courtesy of the East Jordan athletic department.)