MUSKEGON – Butch Attig called this back on May 1.
Following an 8-1 loss to host Mona Shores in the Greater Muskegon Athletic Association Tier 1 title game, Reeths-Puffer’s demanding and inspiring head baseball coach told the Rockets they would see the Sailors and pitcher Brady Rose again in the district finals.
Attig told the Rockets to keep believing and continue improving, and they could win a district title on their home field. On Saturday at Sodoni Field, it happened. Behind senior Kaleb Mitchelson’s masterful pitching performance all day, Reeths-Puffer captured its first district baseball title in 20 years.
The Rockets defeated Mona Shores, 2-1, in a thrilling finals matchup after they had beaten Grand Haven, 3-1, in the semifinals. Mitchelson, a 6-foot-2 right-hander, earned both wins despite having not pitch in 11 days because of a tire shoulder.
Reeths-Puffer (24-10) advances to Wednesday’s 6 p.m. regional semifinal at home against OK Green Conference foe Zeeland West (33-4), which knocked off league champ Zeeland East (34-6) in a district final at West Ottawa, 15-5. Mona Shores, meanwhile, finishes the season with a 25-10 record.
“I’m pretty emotional right now, but these kids believed in our game plan for the day. We stuck with it all week and it paid off. Kaleb Mitchelson threw like a bulldog today. Has not thrown in (11) days and comes out and just grinds it out,” Attig said.
“I remember the GMAA. I believed then and as the year went on, every kid was on board and just believed. I don’t believe people thought we were as good as our record, but I kept telling our kids, keep grinding and believing.”
Mitchelson clearly set the tone in that regard. In a pitcher’s duel against Grand Haven standout left-hander Ethan Prins in the semifinals, Mitchelson went the distance. He scattered six hits and struck out eight. Prins, who opted for Tommy John surgery when last season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, was on a 60-pitch limit against the Rockets. In 3 1/3 innings, he did not allow a run and struck out seven.
Reeths-Puffer broke it open in the sixth inning on Kaden Edwards’ double scoring Jeremy Ardshahi and RBI groundouts by Trent Reichert and Jaxson Whitaker scoring Alex Johnson and Edwards, respectively.
Because of Mitchelson’s efficiency against Grand Haven, coupled with outstanding defense by the Rockets, he returned to start the championship game. With 24 pitches remaining in his pitch count, he navigated 3 1/3 shutout innings in which he allowed three hits and struck out one.
Mitchelson battled Mona Shores senior ace Brady Rose (5-2), who also has been dealing with a sore shoulder. Rose, the Ferris State football signee and MLive football player of the year who led the Sailors to back-to-back state titles, allowed one earned run on three hits with four strikeouts.
“Me and my dad always talk about just competing harder than the person you’re facing every pitch and, more times than not, it will work out in your favor,” said Mitchelson, also a four-year starting point guard for the Rockets, who has signed to play basketball at Aquinas College. “I think a lot of it (is mental toughness).
“At this point of the year, there’s a lot of people with sore arms and sore bodies going into this district run and this regional run. I think just going out there and knowing every pitch you have to make a good pitch and trusting the pitches that are being called and hitting spots is a big part of what goes into being a good pitcher in high school.”
Against Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer scratched out its runs in the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth, Edwards tripled and Alex Orchard drove him in. The next inning, Brody Panozzo drove in Ayden Willacker.
Ryan Barmes threw three solid innings of relief for R-P, totaling seven strikeouts. Kendall Smith closed the game by getting the final two outs and leaving the bases loaded.
Jaxon Huffman paced Mona Shores with two hits, Mark Konecny had a hit and run scored, and Jason Anderson had a hit and an RBI.
Mona Shores advanced to the district final with a 15-0, four-inning victory over Muskegon in the day’s first game. The Sailors were coming off a wild win over ninth-ranked Hudsonville on Wednesday, in which they trailed 6-0 in the bottom of the seventh and scored seven runs to walk it off. They trailed the Eagles 6-1 with two out.
“We beat two solid pitchers today and two good teams. Mike (Hansen, Grand Haven coach) and Brandon (Bard, Mona Shores coach) always have teams ready, but I told (Reeths-Puffer’s players), ‘Our field, our trophy,’” Attig said.
It’s been a tough but rewarding season for Attig. Complications from a routine back surgery in January required a 34-day hospital stay, the latter two weeks at Mary Free Bed for rehabilitation.
Reeths-Puffer started this spring with a 2-4 record, including losing two of three to Zeeland West in the Rockets’ season-opening series, while Attig was out. He returned to the dugout April 22 in R-P’s 8-5 conference win at Mona Shores, and the Rockets got on a roll behind their strong pitching.
Attig said without the contributions of assistant coaches Jon Johnson and Brandon Becklin, the Rockets would not have accomplished what they did Saturday.
“Our seniors believed and led our team today, but Kaleb was extra special, like, ‘Give me the ball. I will be a bulldog all day,’” said Attig, who still moves around with the assistance of a walker. ” … I love that kid not just because of what he did today, but for the quiet leader he has become.
“I’m so proud of our kids. It has been a long year, but this really helps the healing process.”
Attig is clearly the captain of the ship, according to Mitchelson.
The 6-foot-5, physically imposing coach has a “huge presence,” Mitchelson said.
“The amount of stuff that coach Attig has been through in this last year, and to see how happy he was and how happy everyone else was after the game and making the last out and running onto the field, it was just amazing,” Mitchelson said.
“He holds everyone accountable, he’s really intense. He is a lot of things, and at the same time everyone on the team in their own way loves coach Attig and we play hard for coach Attig. He yells, but it’s always what he’s saying, not the way he’s saying it. Just his presence has made a huge difference in our entire baseball program honestly.”