Pine River falls in regional tournament

NEWAYGO — Baseball games are frequently determined by timely hitting.

Saturday against Muskegon Oakridge in the Division 3 baseball regional semifinals, Pine River couldn’t produce the key hit that might have made the difference and lost 6-3 to the Eagles.

Oakridge scored three runs in the first inning, added two more in the third and were able to hold back a late-game Pine River rally.

Pine River (32-4) ended its season. Oakridge (31-5) defeated Morley Stanwood 5-4 in the title game.

The Eagles’ three-run first inning did provide a setback in the ejection of their top pitcher Wyatt Hilton, who retired the Bucks in order in the top of the first inning.

The first three batters the bottom of the first singled against Pine River starter Greg Park, including Jared Beattie, who drove home a run. After Hilton walked, Brady Lutthrull singled home two runs for a 3-0 lead.

“They deserved the runs they got,” Pine River coach Shawn Ruppert said. “I didn’t think Greg came out with his great stuff that first inning and they took advantage of it.”

Oakridge attempted a suicide squeeze and Hilton got caught in on a rundown between home and third. He collided with Pine River catcher Alex Knapp, who was down for five minutes before getting back up and finishing the game.

But Hilton was ejected for trying to knock over Knapp, which meant he couldn’t play in the regional title game and was ineligible for the state quarterfinals on Tuesday.

“That means a ton to us,” Oakridge coach Brandon Barry said. “That kid’s probably, if not an all-state pitcher, a second-team all-stater. There was no intent on his part. He’s played for me three years and we’ve never had an issue with an umpire or any other team on the field.”

“He deserved to be tossed, that’s all I know,” Ruppert said. “You don’t lower your shoulder. It was obvious our catcher had the ball and he lowered and went right through. If it was my player, I would have been after him. You don’t lower your shoulder. There was no debate that it was the right call.”

“You’re supposed to give yourself up or slide,” Barry said. “My perception was the catcher came toward him and he was surprised by it and he went up to defend himself. He, being a bigger kid, delivers a blow a little heavier than the catcher did. It’s unfortunate that happened.”

Beattie took over the mound duties and kept the Bucks scoreless until the fifth.

Oakridge upped its lead to 5-0 with a two-run double in the third by Kaleb Cook.

The Bucks had two runners on base the top of tahe fourth when Tyler Wing’s line drive to center field threatened to score both. But Oakridge made the play.

“We got the runners on but could not get them across,” Ruppert said. “We probably left eight, nine guys on. They made the plays. That play in center field with runners on was a nice catch.”

Pine River loaded the bases the top of the fifth, but only scored one run on Marcus Washington’s sacrifice fly. The Eagles scored the bottom of the fifth on Logan Laymen’s RBI single.

The Bucks made a bid in the seventh when Tony Moore opened the inning on a walk and Lucas Harris was safe on a third-strike passed ball. Mitchell McDonald’s sacrifice fly made it 6-2, but Washington and Brady Long both walked to load the bases. Brock Luttrull came in relief and got Mason Powell on an RBI bounceout. Knapp’s flyout ended the game.

“We do have good pitching and defense,” Barry said. “Usually we can hold out as a defensive team. The kids have manufactured runs all year. To do it in the first inning let’s us relax.”

Park took the loss in five innings of work. McDonald pitched the sixth inning.

“You’d like to win your last game,” Ruppert said. “But it doesn’t always happen.”