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West Michigan Conference 2022 baseball preview: Team-by-team capsules

Montague, North Muskegon appear to be the teams to beat again.

Montague and North Muskegon split the West Michigan Conference baseball title last season, and they look to be the frontrunners again this spring.

In a wild night at Marsh Field last May, the Wildcats and Norsemen split a doubleheader that took about 6 ½ hours to complete and required 650 pitches. They shared the conference title as a result.

Montague won the first game, 10-6, in a 14-inning marathon that took nearly 4 ½ hours and 450 pitches between the teams. North Muskegon bounced back to take the second game, 12-3.

The 2022 season is already underway, but it really gets rolling after spring break. Here is a preview of West Michigan Conference baseball teams this spring, which responded to CatchMark SportsNet’s request for info.

Conference coaches were asked to anonymously predict the order of finish in the league. Here’s how it looks based upon the responses CatchMark received:

  • Montague
  • North Muskegon
  • Ravenna
  • Oakridge
  • Whitehall
  • Shelby
  • Mason County Central
  • Hart

Here are team-by-team preview capsules, arranged alphabetically:

HART PIRATES

No info submitted

MASON COUNTY CENTRAL SPARTANS

Coach: Chris Carr (5th season)

Last year’s records: 16-8-2 overall (4-9-1 WMC)

Returning starters:

Jacob Johnson (Sr., 3B/P)

Gage Ruiz (Sr., OF)

Tyler Thurow (Jr., OF)

Will Chye (Jr., SS/P)

Simon Shimel (Jr., 2B/P)

Owen Shimel (So., 1B/P)

New varsity prospect:

Brady Anes (Fr., P)

Season outlook:

Mason County Central will have a fairly young team with low numbers, but the Spartans look to compete well in the conference. Carr will be using JV players as needed with tournaments and some nonconference games. The Spartans have a good amount of speed, which will help them offensively as well as on defense.

Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark

MONTAGUE WILDCATS

Coach: Kevin Buchberger (10th season)

Last year’s records: 26-13 overall (12-2 WMC, tied for first place)

Returning starters:

Colton Blankstrom (Sr., INF/P)

Aidan Buchberger (Sr., INF/P)

Tugg Nichols (Sr., C/OF)

Hayden McDonald (Sr., 1B/P)

Nick Moss (Jr., 2B/C/P)

Kade Johnson (Jr., INF/P)

Owen Petersen (Jr., OF/P)

New varsity prospects:

Tate Stine (Sr., OF/INF/P; missed last season with knee injury)

Izac Jarka (Jr., OF/P)

Chase Gowell (Jr., OF/P)

Michael Moore (Jr., C/OF)

Owen Fairchild (Jr., OF)

Skeets Dusenberry (Jr., OF/1B/P)

Returning stat leaders:

Colton Blankstrom .431 BA, 27 runs, 56 hits, 39 RBIs, 18 doubles, 1 home run; 7-3 record, 2.09 ERA

Aidan Buchberger .369 BA, 33 runs, 48 hits, 25 RBIs, 10 doubles; 4-2 record, 2.31 ERA

Nick Moss .361 BA, 37 runs, 43 hits, 28 RBIs, 7 doubles

Tugg Nichols .359 BA, 32 runs, 37 hits, 39 RBIs, 8 doubles

Owen Petersen .330 BA, 36 runs, 35 hits, 20 RBIs, 5 doubles, 3 triples; 5-1 record, 3.37 ERA

Kade Johnson .309 BA, 25 runs, 34 hits, 19 RBIs, 5 doubles; 5-3 record, 3.24 ERA

Season outlook:

Montague returns a lot of experience, not only as varsity baseball players, but with those who have played travel baseball at elite levels. They’ve been in pressure situations and understand what it takes to play the game the right way. Four of the Wildcats’ top five pitchers, the starting infield and one outfielder return. Three or four players performed well on the JV team last season and will contribute to this squad. Montague’s team speed will wreak havoc on the basepaths, and the Wildcats will manufacture runs with that speed.

North Muskegon’s varsity baseball players pose for a photo in advance of the 2022 season. (Courtesy of North Muskegon baseball)

NORTH MUSKEGON NORSEMEN

Coach: Garret Moyer (1st season at North Muskegon; 10th season coaching baseball)

Last year’s records: 30-10 overall (12-2 WMC, tied for first place)

Returning starters:

Troy McManus (Jr., CF/P)

Denny Belmonte (Jr., SS/C)

Ben Meyers (So., C/Utility)

Matt Colbert (Sr., 2B/P)

Carson Moat (Jr., P/OF).

New varsity prospects:

Ryan DeLora (So., 3B/P)

Sam Gallo (Jr., 1B/3B/P)

John Caliendo (Jr., 1B/2B/OF/P).

Returning stat leaders from 2021:

Troy McManus .361 BA, 33 RBIs, 12 doubles, 27 stolen bases; 44 IP, 4-2 record, 1.74 ERA

Denny Belmonte .346 BA, 27 RBIs, 41 runs, 16 hit by pitch, 31 stolen bases, 2 home runs

Ben Meyers .455 BA, 24 RBIs, 39 runs, 26 stolen bases

Season outlook:

Looking to build off a great last season. First time winning conference since 2008, so expectations are high. Lost a lot of starters from last year that were built with a great senior class. The Norsemen will not have the power arms they had last year, but they think they’ll make up with it in depth. The Norse have a lot of kids who can throw strikes and a defense that can pick it up. Same for the lineup: They’ll have to fill some big roles that we lost in the middle of the order. Overall, the Norse think their team speed will make up for what they may have lost in power. They’ll be built a little different, but all in all, they’ll looking to compete at the top of the conference.

OAKRIDGE EAGLES

Coach: Brandon Barry (33rd season)

Last year’s records: 14-12 overall (7-3 WMC) – lost two weeks of the season to COVID-19

Returning starters:

Corey Vanderputte (Sr., CF/P)

Matt Danicek (Jr., SS/P)

Garrett Wever (Sr., 2B/P)

Logan Fowler (Sr., 1B/P)

Ethan Jozsa (Sr., OF/P)

Returning letterman:

Brody Jennings (So., INF/OF/P)

New varsity prospects:

Adrian LaNore (Jr., P)

Gage Lowry (Jr., 1B/P)

Bryson Foster (C/OF)

Caleb Osinski (2B/OF/P)

Evan Miller (Fr., C/OF)

Taeven Watson (Jr., C/3B)

Ryan Cribbins (Jr., OF/P)

Kyle Weaver (3B/P)

Aiden Johnston (So., C/3B)

Michael Wambaugh (Fr., P)

Returning stat leader:

Corey Vanderputte .432 BA

Season outlook:

Barry believes the Eagles will develop as the season progresses. He said they have a great group of guys, who will play for each other. They are very much a team that possesses talent, but much of it is untested at the varsity level.

Ravenna varsity baseball players pose for a photo in advance of the 2022 season. (Courtesy of Austin Sied)

RAVENNA BULLDOGS

Coach: Paul Herremans (32nd season)

Last year’s records: 22-11 overall (9-5 WMC, third place)

Returning starters and lettermen:

Thomas McCullough (Sr., OF)

Travis May (Sr., P/INF)

Brandon McFarren (Sr., C/P/INF/Utility)

Dayton Thomas (Sr., OF/P)

Owen Scott (Sr., OF)

New varsity prospects:

Keigen Swan (Jr., P/1B)

Tyler Bradtmueller (Jr., P/IF)

Hunter Hogan (Jr., INF/C/OF)

Luke Meyers (Sr., Utility)

Drew Mabrito (So., C/OF)

Wyatt Young (So., P/INF)

Blake Homoly (So., Utility)

Colin Poley (So., INF/P)

Returning stat leaders:

Thomas McCullough 44 stolen bases (school record), 39 runs, 41 hits, .406 BA

Travis May .420 BA, .532 on-base percentage

Brandon McFarren 27 RBIs, .247 BA

Dayton Thomas .333 BA

Owen Scott 18-of-18 stolen bases, .250 BA

Season outlook: Ravenna has a very good one-two punch in seniors Thomas McCullough and Travis May. McCullough was an honorable mention all-state recipient last season as an excellent two-way player, who broke the school record in stolen bases with 44. Like his cousin, McCullough, May also earned all-conference and all-district honors. In the early going this season, May tossed a no-hitter against Holton. The Bulldogs were a competitive team last year in winning 22 games, finishing behind conference co-champs Montague and North Muskegon, and capturing a district title. They’ll need their other returnees and some newcomers to fill key roles this season.

SHELBY TIGERS

Coach: Brian Wright (41st year)

Last year’s records: 3-20 overall (2-10 WMC, 7th place)

Returning starters:

Joseph Hayes (Sr., SS/P)

Lalo Garcia (So., SS/P)

Travis Boughan (Jr., C/P/OF)

Blake Stovall (Sr., 3B)

Thomas Driscoll (Sr., 2B)

Trey Waller (So., INF/OF/P)

Returning letterman:

Damian Viterna (Sr., OF)

New varsity prospects:

Carson Claeys (Jr., CF)

Wyatt Dickman (So., 1B)

Micah Fyre (So., OF)

Phillip Hayes (So., INF)

Returning stat leaders:

Lalo Garcia .267 BA; 33 Ks in 30 IP

Joseph Hayes 30 IP, 4.20 ERA

Blake Stovall .263 BA

Season outlook:

With eight returning lettermen, Shelby is working hard to be much more competitive throughout the season. Wright hopes the Tigers will be improved in all areas of the game. The league is very competitive each season and the Tigers want to compete harder with the conference. Wright said he’s been very pleased with how his players worked in the preseason.

WHITEHALL VIKINGS

Coach: Warren Zweigle (28th season)

Last year’s records: 15-22 overall (4-8 WMC, fifth place)

Returning starters:

Kyle Stratton (So., P/SS/C)

Ryne Christensen (So., P/2B)

Jaden Brinkert (Jr., C/3B/P)

Jack McDowell (Jr., 3B/OF)

Returning letterman: Brendan Schmehil (Sr., OF)

New varsity prospects:

Landon Howe (Jr., C)

Evan Ritchie (Jr., OF)

Sam Cole (Jr., 1B/OF)

Maddox Varela (Jr., 1B/OF)

Taryn Hardy (Jr., OF)

Returning stat leader:

Jaden Brinkert .368 BA

Season outlook:

Whitehall will have only one season on the roster, so the Vikings will be incredibly young. However, Zweigle has a lot of faith and trust in sophomore pitchers Ryne Christensen and Kyle Stratton. They have invested a tremendous amount of time in pitching and their coach expects big things out of them. Zweigle believes the Vikings will struggle to hit the ball, so they’ll have to run and bunt a lot to move runners into scoring position.

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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