Grant Martin continues comeback as a pitcher, hurling Rockford past Flushing, into final four
HUDSONVILLE — Grant Martin wound prefer not to dwell on where his questionable baseball career stood three months ago.
The Rockford right-hander was battling multiple arm woes that had sunk him near the bottom of the Rams' expected pitching plans. At the time, Martin wasn't sure where — or even if — he fit into what was thought to be a solid pitching rotation.
What he did know was winning a Division 1 Super Regional was beyond a long shot. But that's exactly what happened after Martin scattered three hits over six innings in Saturday's 5-1 win over Flushing.
The win culminates an unlikely stretch where Martin worked his way back from arm trouble into the type of dependable pitcher capable of sending the Rams to their first Final Four since winning a state title in 2011.
It was the type of journey filled with peaks and valleys, but continued with the biggest start of Martin's career.
"As the season went on I got opportunities to pitch and my arm felt as good as it ever had," Martin said. "But I never expected I would wind up like this. Not at all.”
The win sends the Rams (26-9) into Friday’s semifinal at Michigan State, facing Macomb Dakota, an 11-3 winner over defending D1 champion Grosse Pointe South.
Martin retired 10 of the last 12 Flushing hitters he faced after Nick Powers' RBI triple gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead in the third.
Rockford coach Matt Vriesenga said Martin was actually expected to contribute more as a hitter this season.
“He has been a designated hitter quite a bit, but he really came on as a pitcher,” Vriesenga said. “About the second week indoors he came to me (after a tough practice) and said he didn’t think he'd pitch much for us. But I said, ‘Hold on, this is only the second week and there's a lot of season left.’”
Martin didn't just help Rockford with his arm. He had the game-winning single in Saturday's 3-2, eight-inning regional final win over Byron Center.
“I think of myself as more of a hitter because I like to hit," he said. “I just want to play as much as I can.”
Both wins were typical of Rockford's recent success. The Rams rallied after letting a 2-0 lead slip away against Byron Center, then bunched two walks, an error and an RBI single by Cody Sterkenburg in the third inning to wipe out the 1-0 deficit against Flushing.
“In baseball you get these opportunities, but you get them because you're aggressive. That’s what gets you the opportunities,” Sterkenburg said. “When you get ’em, you've got to take advantage.”
Vriesenga said taking advantage of situations helped the club to an OK Red title and now five straight wins in the state tournament. The Rams added a two-out triple and RBI single by Joe Kelley in the fifth inning and a sacrifice fly by Alex Miller in the sixth.
“We’ve hit a ton all year, but when get to the state tournament you're going to get other teams’ best efforts,” Vriesenga said. “We’ve definitely made mistakes, but as I told the guys we have to do the little things. You have to allow the game to come to you.”
Flushing, which started only one senior in the Super Regional, finishes 31-6. The team was slowed by a key third inning error and giving up three two-out runs. Two freshman pitchers gave up only five hits, but mistakes hurt.
Coach Stephen Burdis said that will get clubs nowhere against teams such as Rockford.
“It was one play here and there,” Burdis said. “You can’t get away with mistakes against teams like Rockford. We’ve only got four seniors on the team so we're going to have a lot of experience coming back and hopefully we'll build on that.”