By Sue Moore
How do you spell success in Vicksburg High School athletics? It’s when your baseball team wins its conference title, district, regional, and quarterfinal tournament games to advance to the state semi-final game in McLane baseball stadium on the Michigan State University campus.
The team ultimately lost 9-1 to Orchard Lake St. Mary in Division 2 to end its season at 28 wins, 8 losses. No baseball team in Vicksburg has ever advanced this far, according to Coach Brian Deal. “It was a huge accomplishment. For these kids to experience this dream come true, whether they won or lost, it’s so special.” St. Mary went on to win the state title.
Of the nine starters, seven have been playing baseball together since they were seven years old in Little League play. They represent home-grown talent, according to Roger Van, one of the dads of the core group. All of them began kindergarten together in the Vicksburg school system. In a testament to the Little League program, they were nurtured as baseball players from the very beginning, he said. They were good enough at an early age to win a District All-Stars game. When the boys were 10, coaches Jerry VanSchoick and Tim Callahan took the boys under their wing and kept them together on a travel baseball team so they could hone their skills.
It paid off as they got into high school and came up to the varsity as sophomores. They had a chance to play under Coach Deal’s system for three years and play as a unit. Other players were easily accepted into the group especially because these guys want to win, he said. Any player that had the heart and the skills was welcomed with open arms while being held to a high standard of performance. To top it off, they were all good students in the classroom, achieving all-state academic recognition with the third best GPA in the whole state for a school of Vicksburg’s size.
Deal chuckles when he described the guys at practice and play. “They paid attention, had a laser-like focus, and played as hard as any team I’ve ever coached. Then when there was a break in the action, they were back to being typical high school knuckleheads, kidding each other and messing around but always looking out for each other. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime group in my 17 years of coaching and teaching.”
To get to the semi-finals, the team beat a tough Plainwell team in the districts, took on Lakeshore and Edwardsburg in the regional, and defeated an East Grand Rapids team, ranked first in the state in the quarterfinals. Coach Deal described each player on the starting roster and the skills they brought to make the team competitive.
Connor Henderson, centerfield, senior, had a batting average of .467, 26 stolen bases, and will head to Western Michigan University on a baseball scholarship. He was selected by the Michigan High School Coaches’ Dream Team, a singular honor according to Deal. He made all-conference, all-district and all-regional. He is the first player from Vicksburg ever to be selected to the all-state team in Division 2.
Brenden Lovell, pitcher, sophomore, went 8-1 and in just two years has amassed 18 wins. He has an 80-mph-plus fastball, a nice off-speed pitch that causes batters to hit a lot of ground balls to let our strong defense make plays. “He got the start in every big game, has a good bat so we worked him into the outfield if he wasn’t pitching,” Deal said. He made second team on the coaches’ Dream Team.
Mitchell VanSchoick, shortstop, senior, “knows the right spot to be in at all times, fields most everything hit his way, best fielder on the team, all-time assists leader with 100 last year and 60-plus this year.” He has started at shortstop since he was a sophomore and will take his talents to Lake Michigan College in the fall.
P.J. Callahan, first base, senior, “can pick balls out of the dirt or go up in the air with his big wing-span of about 8 to 9 feet.” He’s been coming to the baseball diamond since he could walk practically, because his dad, Tim Callahan coached the varsity with Deal when he first took over from the legendary Ed Knapp. He will move on to play at MIT next year and was the valedictorian of his graduating class.
Colin Morgan, second base, senior, a steady fielder, good bunter, hardworking, gives great effort, made one of the best backhanded stabs of a grounder hit to him Deal has ever seen. Morgan turned it into a double play by flipping the ball out of his glove to VanSchoick to help win one of the playoff games.
Hunter Van, third base, senior, a three year starter and pitcher. A good hitter with two home runs this year and much improved defensively, at a tough position to play.
Lucas Perry, right field, senior, a good hitter, can put the ball in play, was the catcher who turned into a powerful fielder. He made a catch that looked like it was out of the ball park in the District finals to double the runner off second base, who couldn’t believe the ball could be caught. Vicksburg scored a couple of runs in the next inning to win the game.
Dalton Ketelaar, left field, senior, caught the first half of the season when starting catcher Trace Slancik was out with a broken wrist. He’s just one of a kind who gets the job done, Deal said. As a pitcher he had E. Grand Rapids guys popping up all over the place. He always puts in a great effort and is a leader on and off the field. He will be going to Davenport University in the fall to play football and baseball.
Trace Slancik, catcher, junior, has a strong arm and is the best hitter on the team. When he returned from surgery on his broken wrist, the team got even better, real fast for the playoffs Deal said. He hit nearly .500 for the last half of the season with a bunch of RPI’s. He is focused, serious, smart, but funny and fun-loving when the work is done.
The backup players were just as instrumental in the winning season, Coach Deal said. They included Keenan Erb, Austen Gohl, Jacob Dilly, Matthew Holman, Bailey Kloosterman, and Michael Scoffin.