Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
WHITEHALL – Warren Zweigle is pleased that his Whitehall baseball team gets to play the district on the Vikings’ home field. Of course, that does come with a little pressure.
“You definitely don’t want to lose a predistrict at home,” Zweigle said with a smile. “This is great – a chance to play on our field. We have a very nice field and we all enjoy playing here more than at other places. We’re excited and feel privileged to play the district here on Saturday.”
Whitehall advanced to Saturday’s district semifinal by overcoming a slow start before pulling away for a 9-0 victory over Orchard View in a Division 2 opener Tuesday. The Vikings (19-17) will face Spring Lake at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Whitehall led 1-0 through four innings before the Vikings broke it open with four in the fifth, one in the sixth and three in the seventh.
Sophomore Ryne Christensen tossed a two-hitter for Whitehall. The right-hander struck out 11 and walked two.
“I thought he was phenomenal. He was hitting every single spot,” Whitehall junior catcher Landon Howe said about Christensen. “He was throwing probably the best I’ve seen all season.”
After a shaky start offensively, Whitehall got the bats going. Seven players recorded hits for the Vikings, led by freshman Ryan Goodrich and sophomore Isaac VanAmberg with two apiece from the Nos. 8 and 9 spots in the lineup, respectively.
Goodrich tripled, while both players drove in a run and scored a run. Sophomore Kyle Stratton doubled.
Kellen Morgan took the loss for Orchard View (5-22), which like Whitehall boasts a very young team. The right-handed junior allowed five runs (three earned) on only two hits with three strikeouts and four walks in 4 2/3 innings.
“We’ve been through a season where we’ve taken our lumps this year as a young team and we could have easily laid down a few different times against a few opponents,” Cardinals coach Derik Morehouse said.
“To see their resolve and see them fight through and understand this is part of the game and us growing and learning, it’s been refreshing, I guess, for the next couple years to know that I’m bringing back ninth- and 10th-graders who enjoy baseball, No. 1, and they’re going to put the effort in to continue to get better.”
In addition to the aforementioned pitching by Christensen and hitting by Goodrich, VanAmberg & Co., Whitehall got a lift from Jack McDowell. The junior outfielder made a great, diving catch heading toward the right-field line, plus he went 1-for-1 with an RBI, run scored and stolen base.
On the diving catch, McDowell said he’s prepared for that moment. He was able to make the play when the opportunity came knocking.
“Just playing outfield, see the ball off the bat. I saw a good read of it – nothing I have not done a hundred times at practice. I practiced diving plays with Kyle (Stratton) all last practice,” he said with a smile, “so luckily I got one out there, reached out, protected my pitcher.”
Freshman Emilio Villareal had both of Orchard View’s hits.
Morehouse is looking forward to more battles with Whitehall as Orchard View is moving from the Lakes 8 Activities Conference to the expanding West Michigan Conference beginning in the 2022-23 academic year.
“It’s exciting to join that conference. Obviously, being from Oakridge, the WMC is strong,” Morehouse said. “It’s going to be fun to be competitive with (Oakridge’s Brandon Barry) and (Whitehall’s Warren Zweigle) again.”
Zweigle said the Vikings were a little tight early in Tuesday’s game. State tournament pressure and having little practice time around Memorial weekend contributed.
Once they shook off the rust, they were fine.
“You just never really know, districts can be a different game,” McDowell said. “You never really know what to expect, but I thought we fought a good game. … We came out with the dub and that’s what’s important, (getting) to Saturday.”
Whitehall now can prepare for Spring Lake, an opponent the Vikings faced recently. They fell to the Lakers, 3-2, in a Reeths-Puffer event on May 14.
The other side of the bracket features Fruitport, considered the favorite in the district, and Oakridge, which has played some good ball of late.
Howe is looking forward to playing at home again.
“I think it’s nice because you can see all your friends and family and all their support and it just pushes you to do better,” he said. “I feel like whenever we have more support, we just come along better as a team and play our best.”
Said Zweigle: “Baseball’s a game where anything can happen in a single game and you never know how it’s going to turn out. We feel like we can compete with anybody, stay in the game, hang around. Anything can happen.”
Graphics by Amy Yonkman | CatchMark
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