By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
HUDSONVILLE – After last year’s regular season ended, longtime Hudsonville baseball coach Dave Van Noord was on the brink of reaching a career milestone.
An early exit from the postseason tournament derailed the celebration.
Van Noord was two wins shy of joining an elite class of coaches who have won 500 games.
“I knew going into Districts last year that there was a chance, but then we lost in Districts and I didn’t think about it much,” Van Noord said. “Then this season started and I saw a plaque in the press box and I thought, ‘Oh man, this is going to happen this week.’”
Following Spring Break, Van Noord did reach the 500-win plateau with his team’s 6-1 victory over Zeeland East on April 13.
The victory was another milestone for one of the state’s top baseball programs – but also for the Eagles’ dominating programs on both diamonds.
Softball coach Tom Vruggink, who turns 66 next month, has been a mainstay at Hudsonville for 35 years and instrumental in turning that program into a state powerhouse.
Vruggink has nearly doubled Van Noord’s win total. He began the 2016 campaign with a 941-243 record and is the eighth all-time winningest coach in MHSAA softball history.
Combined, Van Noord and Vruggink have more than 1,400 wins.
“That’s incredible, isn’t it?” Van Noord said. “I wish I had his pitchers through the years, and they’ve had some incredible teams. He has a special way with girls.”
Van Noord, 53, is in his 22nd season as the Eagles’ head coach. He began his coaching career in 1991 at Lakewood Lake Odessa, where he spent two years before receiving a teaching job in Hudsonville.
He replaced longtime coach Larry Byle, who retired in 1994.
Van Noord has received help through the years from longtime assistant coach Joe DeSmit, and support from his wife, Sue.
“We’ve coached together 21 years, and there is no way I would’ve been able to stay in it without Joe,” Van Noord said. “We basically co-coach together, and my wife has put up with so much, especially my bad moods when the team’s not playing well. I wish the older that I get, the better I would be with losing, but I’m not.”
Van Noord said he was thrilled to accomplish the feat with this year’s group, which started 4-1 before suffering a four-game losing skid.
“It was cool for this team to do it,” he said. “Joe and I really like this team. We didn’t play very well last week, but the first week was good. It feels like a classic Hudsonville team.”
The Eagles were competitive through the early stages of Van Noord’s career, but were unable to make lengthy postseason runs.
That all changed in 2009 when the program claimed a District title. Three years later, Hudsonville won its first MHSAA Division 1 championship.
“We always thought if we could get by Jenison or Grandville, which were both good, then we could make a run and that would be sweet,” Van Noord said. “We won our first District in 2009 and went to the Quarterfinals. That’s when we got it going and started winning O-K Red championships. The state title was a cool thing to do.”
Van Noord looks back fondly on all of the players he has coached.
“I coached pairs of brother and trios of brothers and just a lot of good kids,” Van Noord said. “They believed in what we did and they worked hard. They all come from good families, and it has been special to be a part of that for so long.”
Ironically, Vruggink had aspirations to coach baseball. However, softball became his calling.
“My dream was to always get a baseball job somewhere,” said Vruggink, who began his tenure in 1982. “I got the softball job here before that and never looked back.
“It was tough at the beginning going from a male athlete coaching football and then coaching girls in softball. It’s a lot different working with girls than the boys, and that was the biggest adjustment.”
Vruggink has no regrets over his decision to stay involved in softball.
“I’ve loved it, and I think it is the best coaching job around,” he said. “I have kids who work hard and they love to play. The parents are so supportive of what the kids are doing and what we are doing as a program.”
The Eagles have won three MHSAA Division 1 championships under Vruggink’s guidance. They won back-to-back crowns in 2009 and 2010, and again in 2012.
“We’ve been very successful through the years, and all of the state championships are special in their own way,” Vruggink said. “We were close a lot of times and finally broke through in 2009 and got that first one. To do it twice in a row was special, and then we overcame a big hurdle in 2012 in our first year without Sara Driesenga (who has gone on to star at University of Michigan). That team had something to prove.”
Vruggink’s wife, Patty, has been with him every step of the way as the team’s scorekeeper.
“She’s in the dugout every game, and she’s like an assistant coach,” Vruggink said. “I bounce things off her like I would any other coach and it’s been great.”
Vruggink, who taught fourth grade for 31 years and now is retired from the classroom, isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Although hanging up the cleats and bat is talked about at times, he can’t imagine life without coaching.
“Right now, I’m still having fun and I get fired up every year for the beginning of the season,” Vruggink said. “It will be a difficult thing to say ‘this is my last year,’ because there’s always that next girl coming up you want to coach.”
Players from Van Noord’s past were among those who reconnected after his recent milestone win.
“They did a nice presentation for me after the game and that was cool,” Van Noord said. “I don’t look back much, and the years have added up quickly, especially the last 10 years. It’s been a whirlwind recently, but the best part of it was the social network.
“I’m tied in with so many people and I must’ve had 50-75 texts and emails from staff, former players and other coaches. It was so cool to just connect with those people again.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Tom Vruggink (left) and Dave Van Noord both led Hudsonville programs to Division 1 titles in 2012. (Middle) Van Noord is surrounded by his players flashing five fingers after his latest milestone win. (Below) Vruggink raises his program's third MHSAA title trophy after the 2012 win. (Middle photo courtesy of Hudsonville athletic department.)
Standish-Sterling’s run to the 2022 Division 3 Semifinals was driven in part by a record-setting offense, including a pair of senior standouts who posted single-season and career highlights.
The Panthers made the team record book in four categories, topped by a record 28 triples over 42 games. They also were added for 371 RBI (fourth all-time), 425 runs (12th) and 414 hits.
Cole Prout tied the MHSAA record for runs scored in one season with 84 and set the record with 27 career triples over three seasons (with 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). His 13 triples in 2022 tied for third on that list, while Chase Raymond’s 10 tied for 11th. Prout also tied for 12th all-time with 182 career runs, while Raymond is eighth on the single-season RBI list with 77 over 42 games in 2022 and earned a career RBI entry with 140.
Prout plays now at Central Michigan, and Raymond is playing at Saginaw Valley State.
See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA baseball record book:
Alden Stefanovski played a major role in Whitmore Lake reaching the 2022 Division 4 Semifinals. The senior also made the record book with 20 doubles over 33 games, the first from his school to earn a listing. He was joined in 2023 in the records by senior Alex Di Dio, who hit nine triples over 29 games and also three home runs in one game April 13 against Adrian Madison. Di Dio also was added for 13 triples and a .460 average for his three-season career, and he’s continuing at Kalamazoo College.
Trenton senior Jason Marshall was nearly unstoppable on the base paths during the 2022 season – and perfect stealing on them. He made the record book with 49 steals in 49 attempts, and also for seven triples over 35 games. He’s playing football at Eastern Michigan.
Trent Hagenbach finished his Saginaw Valley Lutheran career in 2022 tied for 11th on the career triples list with 16 despite not having a 2020 season and hitting all of them over the final two. He also made the records for his seven as a junior and nine as a senior.
Dansville had 10 pitchers contribute to its 388 strikeouts over 38 games during the 2022 season, a total which placed the Aggies second all-time. Tucker Mosley paced the team with 137 strikeouts.
Parchment’s Aaron Jasiak finished his three-season varsity career with seven record book entries, including one of the most impressive winning streaks all-time. He won all 26 pitching starts over his career, which didn’t start until his sophomore season because of the COVID-related cancelation of 2020. His winning streak is the seventh longest in MHSAA history, and his 0.87 ERA ranks 11th. He also made career lists with 163 runs scored, 112 stolen bases and a .460 batting average over 103 games, and his 60 steals over 38 games this spring rank 10th. He’s continuing at Hillsdale College.
Bay City Western finished 42-2 in winning the Division 1 championship in 2013, ranking sixth for most wins in a baseball season. The Warriors also tied the record with 21 shutouts, and their 1.02 ERA ranks fifth all-time.
Grandville Calvin Christian senior Blake Pettijohn struck out 20 batters in a 7-0 win over Belding on May 11, which tied for seventh-most for a seven-inning game. He’s continuing at Hope College.
Grant’s Oakley Obenauf made the single-season stolen bases list in the spring with 45 over 29 games – and was a major contributor as his team made the single-game list multiple times. He had a combined eight steals over two games as Grant swiped 13 and 11 bases during halves of a doubleheader May 11. Obenauf is a senior this school year.
Paw Paw reached the team record book this past spring after being hit by 50 pitches over 30 games. Seven players were hit by at least five pitches, with the team leader totaling 10.
Lansing Eastern earned its first record book entries from a pair of graduating seniors this spring. Dominic Wilson capped his three-season varsity career with 134 stolen bases, which rank 10th. He swiped a career-high 51 as a senior. Teammate Matthew Stevenson made the career batting average list at .472 despite getting only eight at bats as a sophomore because of an injury.
Benzie Central’s Wyatt Noffsinger enjoyed a memorable run to nearly finish off his high school career, throwing consecutive no-hitters against Buckley on May 24 and then Manton on June 3.
Okemos then-junior Caleb Bonemer earned his first record book entry with three home runs June 3 against Grand Ledge as his team clinched a Division 1 District title. Bonemer has committed to sign with Virginia.
After 45 years, Flint Southwestern’s Ruben Luna and Risto Nicevski were added for their accomplishments on the 1978 Class A championship team. Luna made the wins list with a record of 14-0 and the ERA list with a 0.71, and Nicevski made the ERA list with a 0.72. Both went on to play at Michigan State.
East Lansing’s Sam Busch enjoyed a career day on April 12, 2019, when he hit three home runs in consecutive at bats against Ionia. A junior that season, he’s now playing at Michigan State.
Powers North Central’s Adrian Mercier enjoyed a record-worthy junior season this spring. He hit .619 over 32 games, ranking 10th all-time for a single season.
Whitehall senior Cayden Ritchie chased and nearly caught the single-season stolen base record in 2021, when he tied for second with 72 steals over 36 games. He also made the single-game steals list five times, twice with a high of six.
Aidan Liedeke capped his Brighton Charyl Stockwell career in the spring with some of the most impressive strikeout numbers in state history. Already listed for averaging 15.41 strikeouts per game as a junior in 2022, he averaged 14.92 Ks per game this spring to finish his three-season career at 15 strikeouts per game. He posted a 0.88 ERA in the spring as well to finish with a career 1.52. He’s playing at Kalamazoo College.
Killian Bies finished his Marshall three-season career in the spring among leaders all-time for getting hit by pitches. He already had tied for sixth as a sophomore in 2021 with 22 HBPs, and with 14 more both his junior and senior seasons he finished with 50 to rank fifth on that list. He’s continuing at Cornerstone.
PHOTO Standish-Sterling's Cole Prout (8) readies for a pitch during his team's 2022 Division 3 Semifinal.