Bulldog baseball eliminated in regional semi-final

Vicksburg pitcher Cole Gebben.

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg varsity baseball team had a solid season to remember, winning a district title for the first time since 2017 before being eliminated in the regional semi-final against Marshall. The season came down to a tight game against the Redhawks that could have gone either way.

The Bulldogs gave up a run early to Marshall, but pitcher Cole Gebben helped keep the game close with some solid pitching. In the fourth, Marshall scored again to make it 2-0, and the final run of the game. It briefly looked like Vicksburg might get something going in the fifth and sixth innings as Logan Cohrs, Drew Habel, and Parker Wilson all got on base. Unfortunately, they were left stranded.

Vicksburg played some solid defense towards the end of the game, particularly from Brendan Monroe, who picked off a base runner and struck out a few runners to keep the score close. In the end, the Bulldogs failed to get a runner on base in the seventh and were eliminated.

The week prior at Districts turned out much more favorably for the team as they defeated archrival Three Rivers 7-1 and then Harper Creek 11-1. In the finals, Harper Creek’s pitcher kept the Bulldogs off the scoreboard for the first five innings before the bats came to life.

“They couldn’t get us out and we hit the ball all over the place,” Deal said. “Next thing you know, it’s 11-1 and we get a mercy in that district championship game against Harper Creek. Again, our pitching did a great job in both of those games defensively to make the plays, and to only give up one run in 13 innings, that was a great Saturday.”

Next season will be a little more challenging for the Bulldogs because they are losing most of their major sluggers. Senior Parker Wilson had over 40 RBIs, over 20 doubles, seven home runs, and a batting average of nearly .500 on the season.

“You can’t replace a guy like that,” Deal said.

Deal also noted Jacob Conklin’s .455 batting average and 37 RBIs, and Monroe’s .412 average as major factors to their success this year. He expects the team will be okay with the defensive players and pitching they have returning, but he expects they will have to get creative with the batting order a bit in 2022.

At the end of the day, it seems Deal and the team were happy they even had a season after losing 2020 to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Thanks to all the parents and the fans that have come out in support of the kids and got them to things, and taking care of all the things they needed,” Deal said. “This season, with all the COVID stuff at the beginning, they had to fight through a lot. So, my hat’s off to the players, to the families, and our school administration for allowing us to have this season and just to go with the ever-changing world that was the COVID baseball season.”

Bulldog baseball sweeps Paw Paw

By Travis Smola

Vicksburg varsity baseball picked up their first two key wins on the road against Paw Paw, giving up a single run in the doubleheader.

The Bulldogs won the first game handily, 10-1, then dealt a shutout in the second, 6-0. The team had had some early struggles in the season against tough teams like Portage Central and Mattawan, but it was the first conference game against Paw Paw that Head Coach Brian Deal had been looking forward to playing.

“We’ve played some non-conference games against some really quality opponents,” Deal said. “And we’ve had some tough go on those games, but it’s all been kind of building up for this opening night of conference play.”

Senior pitchers Parker Wilson and Brendan Monroe both put on a clinic in the games. Wilson had 13 strikeouts in the first game and Monroe had nine in the second game. Both pitchers helped bail their team out of situations where the Red Wolves had runners in scoring position.

“Those two are veterans for us and they did a great job coming into the zone,” Deal said. “It kept the pressure off of our defense, and then, when we did need to make a play, we did make one behind them, so just having those guys who can pound the zone like that, that’s going to be a huge help for us.”

In the second game, Monroe also started off the hits with a single. Vicksburg took a 1-0 lead after they loaded the bases. A high pitch allowed Jacob Conklin to run home. In the top of the second, Zach Myers started things off with a single before Monroe hit a monster triple to far right field that just barely failed to clear the fence. That brought Myers home to make it 2-0.

Conklin brought Monroe home to make it 3-0 immediately after that with a single. Conklin also managed to steal third on that series but got stranded at third.

The score remained 3-0 until the top of the fifth, which ended up being the final inning due to light fading. Paw Paw walked Dylan Zemitans and Myers to start things off. Zemitans scored off a Cole Gebben single and Myers scored off another single from Monroe to make it 5-0.

Conklin was the next batter and was hit by a pitch to load them up. The Red Wolves gave the Bulldogs a freebie when they walked Wilson to make it 6-0.

After last season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Deal praised his younger players with limited baseball experience for their performance, though he noted that the biggest challenge so far is that the strength of their opponents is mostly unknown.

“It’s interesting because you have no idea of what the other teams are going to be like in the conference because you didn’t see them play last year,” Deal said, “So, now every time we go out against a conference team, we’re just hoping to play the best we can possibly play because we don’t know what their teams have or what they’re going to throw at us.”

Two wins open Vicksburg softball season

Vicksburg’s Tristin Abnet.

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg varsity softball team started the 2021 season off on the right foot, picking up two wins, 6-5 and 4-1, in a doubleheader against Richland Gull Lake.

In the first game, the Bulldogs got out to an early 4-0 lead that later shrank to 4-4 in the sixth inning. In the top of the seventh, the Blue Devils took a 5-4 lead, putting the pressure on the younger team to deliver. With two on and no one out, Danielle Diekman hit a ball to center to bring Maddison Diekman home. Danielle then found herself trapped between bases. However, in the commotion of trying to get Diekman out, Gull Lake momentarily took their eyes off Peyton Smith, allowing her to run home for the winning run from third.

“It was really Danielle who got that key hit there at the end and then got herself in a pickle to allow us to score a girl from third,” Head Coach Paul Gephart said.

In the second game, Payton Lewis got the Bulldogs on the board first by taking advantage of a Gull Lake mistake after a hit from Hannah Vallier. Vicksburg scored again in the bottom of the fourth, when Smith hit a big triple to bring Maddison Diekman home. Smith scored shortly after on a high pitch by the Blue Devils. In the fifth, Maya Peters hit a double to bring Vallier home again and make the score 4-0. Gull Lake hit a solo home run in the top of the sixth to make the score 4-1, the final score of the game.

“We’re young. there’s a lot of things that we saw that we need to work on, but I’m very happy when you start the season off, and you win two games,” Gephart said. “Especially that first game when they tied the score up and had all the momentum we came back and finished there at the end.”

Coming back in 2021 is a little bittersweet for both players and coaches. The Covid-19 pandemic cancelled all spring sports completely last year which means that a lot of seniors did not get to play their final season in 2020, leaving many to wonder what might have been.

It has also led to some challenges because many of the newer players have never played softball at the varsity level before the Gull Lake game. Gephart noted that losing a whole season is a challenge every team is going to have to deal with this year.

“There’s no excuses, I just feel bad for the girls from last year, all those that were returning,” Gephart said. “You’ve got eight starters returning and they lost their entire season, six of them graduated. So, I’m really happy that we’re even getting to play.”

Based on what he saw from the first two games though, prospects look promising. He said the younger players stepped up and the veterans led by example.

“I was really pleased with how well they played with the number of new people that we have playing this year,” Gephart said. “They did a really good job with very minimal amounts of time to practice.”

Rough start for Bulldog boys lacrosse

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg varsity boys’ lacrosse team had a rough season start with losses to Harper Creek and Zeeland West. The Bulldogs dropped their first game against Harper Creek 12-9 on the road before losing at home to Zeeland 16-10.

Against Zeeland, the boys fought hard until the end, but the Dux had the benefit in time of possession, limiting scoring opportunities for the Bulldogs. Zeeland went up 1-0 off the opening faceoff before Colby Leach answered back to tie. Leach had two goals, also scoring the final point of the game for Vicksburg. After Thomas Harsha tied it up 2-2, the Dux ripped off six straight goals to make it 8-2. The Bulldogs never seemed to get momentum back.

“If you can’t pass and catch you will have a hard time holding onto the ball,” Head Coach Mike Malloy said. “They did it better, especially in the early part. Now you’re playing from behind, so you’re trying to press a little bit more.”

Rhodes Conroy had four goals for Vicksburg and Grayson Pratt also had a hat trick with three of his own. After missing a whole season due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are some challenges.

“From the coaching point, you’ve got a short window and it’s all about budgeting your time,” Malloy said. “We’ve probably spent a little more time on Xs and Os. And fundamentally I don’t think we’re where we need to be right now. We spent a lot of time yesterday on fundamentals.”

Another factor that has not helped the early part of the season is that both the varsity and JV teams had players in quarantine. Malloy credited his team with fighting hard regardless. He’s hopeful the team can turn around the slow start once they get some players back.

“These guys are playing hard and the guys in quarantine are ready to get back at it once they can,” Malloy said. “It’s tough for those guys to have to sit out.”

In district four bowling, boys place third, girls tenth

By Mark Blentlinger

Schoolcraft’s boys began the Division 4 regional bowling championships in Jackson on a high note: On the first of four games, the team had a combined score of 819 with a high score of 192 from Kyle Fleck. On the second, they rolled an 823 with Max Desmond leading with 208. On the third, the Eagles rolled 820 with Fleck again leading with 179. In game four, the score was 866 with Desmond rolling 212, Fleck 206 for a team total of 3,328.

That left the Eagles 34 pins shy, finishing in third place behind Hackett Catholic Prep in second and Homer winning the regional.

Desmond and Fleck placed among the top 10 individuals; with Desmond in third, Fleck in fifth, sending them to individual state championships in Canton on March 27.

In that contest, Fleck ended up in 30th position against 60 other bowlers, rolling 1,019 with a high game of 199. Desmond ended up in 18th with a total pinball of 1,075 and a high game of 213. He was just 14 pins shy of moving on.

The Eagle girls’ team struggled on the lanes on their day, not really getting anything rolling. At this level, strikes are preferred but spares are a must, and with the oil pattern being pretty unforgiving, the Eagles struggled getting both. In game one, the Eagles rolled a 610 with senior Maya Pearce having a 149. Game two was 628 with Pearce leading again with a 151. The third game ended with 585; sophomore Catie Wright led the Eagles with 157. Game four, the best of the day, ended with 669; again, Maya Pearce rolled the high game with 181.

Hanover Horton walked out with the trophy, topping second place Bronson by 28 total pins, 3,172 to 3,144. The Eagles finished in 10th place with 2,492.

Boys’ and girls’ teams in past years competed on the same Friday in regionals, with the two three teams in both genders competing for a state championship on the following weekend. On Saturday, individuals competed for the Top 10 and competition for a state championship.

This year, Division 4 boys competed on Friday at the Jax 60 lanes in Jackson, while the girls competed Saturday. The MHSAA made other changes to the tournament format.

Eagle wrestlers: District champions

By Mark Blentlinger

Coach Rob Ling took his Eagle grapplers into district championships on March 20. The Eagles didn’t disappoint, beating White Pigeon 63-11 to emerge as district champions.

The team also crowned six individual district champions: Ryan Ling, Jett Gott, Tagg Gott, Jimmy Downs, Hunter Martens and Gary Cramer, and the Eagles sent 10 individual wrestlers to regional championships on March 27.

First the team had to wrestle at the regional team championships in Cassopolis on the 25th. The Eagles faced off against Lawton, the high school Eagles’ Coach Lings had attended. The Eagles came out on top, winning the regional championship, 36-31, with wins from wrestlers Calib Lipscomb, Gary Cramer, Riley Cochran, Jett Gott, Tagg Gott, Jimmy Downs and Connar Webb.

This win sent the Eagles to another team state championship on March 30th at the Wings Event Center. There, the wrestling season ended for both the Hudson Tigers and the Schoolcraft Eagles. Both teams had wrestled with an ineligible wrestler. Hudson had won the match 61-15.

On the 27th, it was the individual wrestlers’ turn, either to win a regional championship or head to state as an individual. Although no Eagles would be crowned regional champions, five punched their ticket to the state championships on April 2-3 at VanAndel Arena – Carsten Svoboda 103, Layne DeLoof 119, Gary Cramer 135, Tagg Gott 189 and Jimmy Downs 215.

Schoolcraft in state wrestling championship

By Mark Blentlinger

Following Schoolcraft’s victories in March district contests, in April it entered five wrestlers in individual state championships at Van Andel Arena: Carsten Svoboda at 103 pounds, Layne DeLoof at 119, Gary Cramer at 135, Tagg Gott at 189 and Jimmy Downs at 215.

Downs scratched his chance at a championship when contact tracing indicated he might have contracted COVID-19, leaving him unable to compete for his final event.

Tagg Gott was the first Schoolcraft wrestler on the mat, facing Justice Onstott of St. Louis. The match went all three periods and Gott squeaked out the win with an 8-7 score, sending him to quarterfinals.

Svoboda was pinned by Trennen Smith of Mio, sending him into the loser bracket. He won his first match by receiving a bye.

DeLoof faced Ayden Sturtevant-Roes from Hesperia. That match went all three periods, but DeLoof was unable to put any points on the board and lost 9-0. He then entered the consolation round where it’s win or go home. He was pinned by Memphis’ Troy Trombley.

Cramer wrestled Aden Baynes of Lainsburg. After the first period, the score was 0-0. Cramer pinned his opponent with 40 seconds to go in the 2nd period, sending him onto the next round.

DeLoof faced Troy Trombley of Memphis in the consolation round. He held his own but was eventually pinned to end his run at state.

Svoboda faced an opponent he had already seen this season: Caleb Mallory from Lawton. Down 0-5 at the end of the first period, Svoboda never gave up. His season ended with Mallory pinning him with a minute left in the 2nd period.

At 135 pounds, Cramer was up against the number 1 seed, Harris Raab from Bark River. Raab had a 30-1 record while Cramer was at 24-3. With 51 seconds left in period 2, Rabb got Cramer on his back, continuing to the semi-finals.

Gott wrestled Russel Wilson from Whittemore Prescott. At the start of the third period, Gott was down 0-1, but he turned it around and ended up winning 6-3, advancing to the semi-finals.

Cramer won his next 2 matches. With 1 more win, Cramer wrestled for 3rd place. His opponent was Landis Gillman of Clinton High School. With the score 4-4 with a minute left, Gillman achieved the takedown and advanced onto the 3rd place match, sending Cramer to the 5th or 6th place match. There, he fell just shy of 5th place, losing 3-5 and finishing in 6th.

In semi-final competition, Gott was matched with Logan Badge. Gott was pinned by the eventual State Champion, sending him to the 3rd place match where he faced Kody Krupp of New Lothrop. Gott ended his sophomore season in 4th place, losing the match 6-12.

Vallier reaches 1,000 career points, sets new record

Hannah Vallier reaches 1000 points.

By Travis Smola

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on high school sports schedules around the country. Seasons have been cut short or have been totally cancelled making some wonder if athletics are ever going to return to normal. For some athletes, the worry of missing out on their senior season has been a very real one.

But the season worked out for Vicksburg senior Hannah Vallier, giving her a shot not only to reach a career goal, but to cement her name in Bulldog basketball history. Often the leading scorer for her team, Vallier eclipsed 1,000 career points against Gull Lake and then broke the Vicksburg career scoring record.

Her 1,000th point came in the fourth quarter of a tough road loss to Gull Lake. She led the team with 13 points as the Bulldogs fell 55-32. However, she helped the team make up for that loss with a stunning 37-point effort in a 58-31 win against Niles in the season finale.

“She would have had 50 if she didn’t miss a bunch of layups and free throws,” Head Coach Tim Kirby noted.

With that performance, she ended the regular season with 1,051 career points.

As COVID-19 continued to cause problems before winter break, the start of basketball season kept getting delayed, making Vallier’s chances of getting to 1,000 career points look slim. Fortunately, indoor sports were given the green light to proceed in February, though in a condensed season.

“When our season got delayed, one of my biggest fears was that she wasn’t going to even have the opportunity to try and get there,” Kirby said. “We didn’t discuss it before the season because I didn’t want to add pressure to her. I’m just glad to be able to be a small part of her journey.”

Kirby gave Hannah all the credit for being able to reach this point. It was the culmination of four years of hard work.

“I’m so proud of Hannah, she set this as a personal goal as a freshman and she has worked tirelessly over the last four years to make that goal happen,” Kirby said.

Vicksburg girls basketball finishes season 8-7

By Travis Smola

There were real concerns that a basketball season was not going to happen in 2021. At the last minute, the MHSAA allowed an abbreviated season to proceed in mid-February.

The Bulldogs had a rough start. They won their opening contest against Dowagiac in a low scoring affair, 20-17, before dropping their next two contests to Plainwell and Otsego. After that, the Bulldogs went on a six-game winning streak, beating Paw Paw and Sturgis twice, plus rival Three Rivers and Allegan. The second game against Paw Paw was the comeback of the year.

Vicksburg trailed the Red Wolves by 10 after three periods. Vicksburg came out on fire in the fourth, outscoring Paw Paw 23-8 to come away with a 52-47 win.

The streak finally came to an end against perennially tough Edwardsburg. Head Coach Tim Kirby called that first Edwardsburg game the toughest game of the year. The team dropped their next three games after that, including a rematch with Three Rivers and a second showdown with the Eddies. The second contest was much closer with a 45-41 final score. The Bulldogs had a 16-point rally near the end to stay in the contest.

The final win of the season came against the Niles Vikings in a decisive 58-31 matchup. Against Niles, Hannah Vallier scored 37 points and broke the Bulldogs’ career scoring record. Vallier was almost always the leading scorer for the team this year with several impressive showings. She had 23 against Allegan, 25 against Three Rivers, and 20 points against Paw Paw.

Danielle Diekman and Chloe Hatridge were also consistent high scorers for the Bulldogs all season. Diekman had 18 points against Paw Paw, 16 against Three Rivers and 11 against Sturgis. Hartridge had 17 against Paw Paw, and 10 against Sturgis. Kayla Mottl, Sophia Blankenship, and Brady Brown also had key contributions in several wins.

Overall, Kirby called it a solid season. As short as it was, players and coaches seem relieved just to have a season in 2021. In 2020, all postseason play was suspended due to COVID-19. This year, the seasons are being played to completion. Vicksburg rounded out its season with a 45-38 loss against Constantine in the first round of District play to give the team an 8-7 record.

Eagles boys basketball heads to state quarterfinals

By Mark Blentlinger

After losing their first game since the 2019 season to the Benton Harbor Tigers 49-68, the Eagles regrouped and began a winning streak, starting with a win on Senior Night against the Constantine Falcons.

Six Schoolcraft seniors played their final game in the Eagles gym: Jonathon Abel, Carson Flynn, Dru Matheny, Skyler Thompson, Bryce VanderWiere and Harmon DeVries. The Eagles pressured the visiting Falcons, keeping them unbalanced. The Eagles ended the first period with a 11-point advantage: 25-14.

When the Eagles and Falcons hit the court, the crowd always expects a physical game. This battle of the boards was such a contest. With the smallest player on the court for the Eagles Jonathon Abel at 5’10” and the tallest at 6’7” – Bryce VanderWeire – it was hard for the Falcons to get many rebounds. At halftime, the Falcons trailed the Eagles 50-30. At the end of the third period, the Eagles led 69-41. They topped the Falcons 81-65 at game’s end.

The game between the Gobles Tigers and the Eagles was canceled on March 16, giving the team a little time to rest before they traveled to Lapeer on March 19. There they faced the Lightning and came home with another Eagles win, 58-46.

In the District semifinal, the Eagles faced the Raiders from Decatur, and the Schoolcraft team came out on top 77-31, punching their ticket for the district championship contest March 27 at Bridgman High School against the Niles Brandywine Bobcats. The Eagles defeated the Bobcats, winning 56-33.

The Lawton Blue Devils were the next team to fall in the March 30 regional semifinal. The Blue Devils hoped to stop the Eagles’ roll, but Schoolcraft ended Lawton’s season 48-33. The next team in the Eagles’ sights was the Kalamazoo Christian Comets. Schoolcraft faced the Comets in Bronson, and the final score again affirmed the Eagles post-season dominance: 52-37, securing a regional championship trophy.

The Eagles advance to state quarterfinals at Loy Norrix High School. They’ll face Grand Rapids Covenant Christian there on April 6.