BELDING — The Belding baseball team came out of the dugout after their 4-2 loss to West Michigan Aviation Academy on Tuesday and huddled around head coach Dave Riches.
Riches, in his sixth season with the Black Knights, told his guys he was disappointed with the way they played against the Aviators in the non-conference doubleheader opener.
“We played terribly,” Riches said. “Seven errors, not including dropped fouls, those don’t show up in the book as errors, but you can’t give outs. We gave them I don’t know how many outs. Twice , we had guys trying to hit a runner with one hand and the ball would fall out of the glove – you just can’t do those things at this level. You can’t. You can’t give another chance to the other team.
In addition to the defensive struggles, the Black Knights’ offensive struggles continued as they scored a hit late in the fifth inning on an Austin Reed hit. He would steal second and advance to third on a pitching error on the same play. Reed brushed the plate on a sack fly from Evan Williams on the next at-bat.
Max McCarty, who started on the mound for Belding, walked in the first inning, stole second and third, then came in to score on wild pitch. At the time, McCarty’s run tied the game at 1-1, after the Aviators struck first in the top of the inning.
But from there, the Black Knights struggled to get traffic on the base paths. McCarty reached third again, this time on an error, but was picked to try to steal third. Mitchell Lake walked in the fourth inning and reached third without any outs. He was doubled at third on a line of Logan Balis pitching practice. Tanner Reed was hit by a pitch later in the fifth but was blocked early.
In all, Belding had five base runners, scored two runs, made two base runner errors, and failed one. The Black Knights also pulled out 11 strikes in the opener, which lasted one hour and 29 minutes. Belding hit the ball hard, but directly at defenders more often than not.
“We want to be aggressive throughout the game,” Riches said. “But we can’t steal bases aggressively if we’re not on base. … That’s been our thing all year, is we’re not even putting it into play right now. When we do that, we don’t make them work. It’s either just up to them or just little things – at this level you have to earn your way. Right now we are not earning our way.
Riches said he would like to see his Black Knights take a different approach at home plate. He said he understands he has a young team, but he wants to see some of their baseball knowledge hone as the playoffs draw closer.
Ultimately, Riches said he wanted his guys to play Belding Black Knight baseball.
“We’ve got guys who go out there and let the first pitch fastball go straight down the middle, now you’re in a hole and our style is to be plate aggressive – that’s how these boys are taught. “, Riches mentioned. “You can’t get in a hole, 0-1, then get the curveball and watch it pass – now you’re in trouble. … You have to change your approach and we still have guys with two strikes on them who think they just have to destroy a ball in deep center field. To be honest, we don’t have guys who can do that. Our only guy who can do that is injured and he’s out.
Drew Donovan injured his elbow while pitching against Calvin Christian on May 9. Riches said the injury was just a strain and that Donovan, the Black Knights’ No. 3 leading pitcher and hitter, could eventually find his way back into the lineup. At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Donovan learned he was going to be able to swing the bat — not throw a ball, but he could hit. Thus, he was immediately reinserted in the No. 3 spot but felt his elbow flare up in the final innings. Donovan was in the circle on the deck in round six but Mac Richard took his place.
McCarty was a bright spot for the Black Knights on Tuesday, pitching a full game and doing everything he could to keep his teammates in the game. Throughout the seven-inning outing, McCarty allowed four runs (two earned) on five hits, walking two and striking out six — including an Aviator hitter four times.
“Max has pitched pretty well this year,” Riches said. “Every time he pitched, he kept us in the game. He pitched well, I wouldn’t say it was one of his best performances, but he worked hard enough to give us a shot at the end of the game – that’s all I can do because my pitchers are to always give us a shot.
With two weeks until the districts, where the Black Knights host Forest Hills Eastern on June 4, the approach to every game, every at bat, every pitch, has to change, Riches said. He added that his guys’ approach needs to change on both sides. It got more complicated, he said, with Donovan’s status in question — he’s also the Black Knights’ best first baseman.
The next test for the Black Knights is at 10 a.m. Saturday against Harper Creek at home. Results for Tuesday’s second game were not available at press time.
“Right now he’s trying to figure out our defense,” Riches said. “With Drew out… we need to figure out how this lineup works and we need someone to step in and say, ‘Here’s my opportunity’, and I appreciate these guys, you have the opportunity and take advantage of it. Right now we have guys taking advantage of it and the next day it’s like they’ve never played the game before. They are high school students, however. You don’t know, for the most part, what’s going on off the pitch. We just sometimes have brain failures and forget.
“We’re going to keep working, we’re going to find out,” Riches continued. “When you’re so young it’s going to take time – you just want it to happen faster as a coach than it is. These kids want to win, everyone knows that — they’re used to winning a ton of games here. We will get there, I see flashes of improvement, but then we take two steps back. We simply cannot take two steps back.
Tuesday’s doubleheader served as the Black Knights’ sixth annual pink game supporting Foundation B in Belding. The Black Knights donned special pink uniforms to raise awareness and support cancer patients and survivors.
“Our kids love it…it’s a great time for our kids,” said Riches, whose mother is battling cancer. “Hope the community likes it – bring people in and let them know we’re thinking of them.”