HOLLAND — Year after year, the Belding Redskins continue to find ways to win. Saturday wasn’t any different.
The Redskins earned a pair of exciting 3-2 victories, the first over Grand Rapids Christian and the second in eight innings over Hudsonville Unity Christian to capture the Division 2 regional championship at Hope College in Holland.
For the fourth time in five years, the Redskins (19-8) faced Unity Christian in either the regional semifinal or final. Three of those meetings were in the regional final and all three have been Belding victories (2010, 2011 and 2013).
The latest victory though, wasn’t secure until Belding pitcher Caitlyn Alkire slid across home plate in the bottom of the eighth inning.
With Alkire on second base, Makayla Boss hit a ground ball to third base. With one out, the throw across the diamond was wild and Alkire was able to score to give Belding the win.
“I knew when she (Boss) hit it there we could move Caitlyn up and she ran the bases perfect,” Belding coach Mikayla Linebaugh said. “I knew she would at least be at third, but she made their player look at her and I think she rushed her throw. It was far enough away where I knew Caitlyn would be able to score.”
The eighth inning run was needed after Unity Christian scored twice in the top of the seventh to break Belding’s shutout and tie the game.
Nichole Schuitema scored on a single by Maddie DeGroot, while Robyn Koop scored on a wild pitch for the Crusaders in the seventh.
“She gets a little nervous late in the game. You can tell in her face,” Linebaugh said of Alkire. “I told her to just throw strikes, your defense is back there. I thought the strike zone was small, so I told her to put it right down the pipe.”
Alkire did just that to get the final outs and earn her second win of the day. She went all eight innings, allowing five hits, two runs, one earned with three strikeouts.
“It’s feels pretty good, but I guess we had to make it exciting,” junior Rachel Hunt said of the win. “We just needed to go back out there and get a run. You get nervous, but we have been out there so long, you kind of get used to it.”
Belding opened the scoring in the first inning. Hunt, who lead off with a single, scored on a base hit by Mariah Heintzelman. Heintzelman went 3-for-3 with a walk in the game.
The Redskins took a 2-0 lead on a solo homer by freshman Greta Wilker. Wilker smoked a two-strike pitch over the left field fence for the Redskins first home run of the year.
“People always laugh at me because I always hit better with two strikes,” Wilker said. “Maybe it’s a defensive reaction, but it was one that felt awesome.”
Wilker had two hits in the final game, but also played awesome defense in both games at third base.
“She does not play like she is a freshman,” Linebaugh said. “She eats everything at third base. I’m never worried about a bunt, she is unbelievable and her home run was on a rope.”
Hunt finished with two hits, while Hannah Linebaugh and Ryann Rich also had hits.
“This team is just unbelievable from top to bottom,” Linebaugh said. “The kids in the dugout give me there all. It’s fun. I’m so proud and happy for them.”
In game one, Alkire was had a no-hitter through six, with the only Eagles’ baserunner getting on base because of an error.
Belding led 3-0 against GR Christian heading into the seventh inning on RBIs by Alkire, Wilker and Hannah Linebaugh.
The Eagles scored twice to pull within one run. The game ended with a ground ball out and the tying run stranded at third base.
Alkire finished the game allowing just two hits, two runs with two strikeouts in seven innings.
“It’s amazing. It’s more than you can ever expect, first off to be on varsity and then to win a regional title, is just awesome,” Wilker said. “It’s been a fun spring.”
Unity Christian defeated Sparta in the semifinal 4-3 to advance and face Belding.
The Redskins will play in the Division 2 quarterfinals on Tuesday against the Linden Eagles at Davenport University. Game time is 2 p.m.
Linden defeated Wayland Union 10-8 in the regional final Saturday at Grand Rapids South Christian.
“I’m so excited to go play at Davenport,” Linebaugh said. “It’s been a fun ride for these kids.”
Belding lost last year in the quarterfinal 11-1 to Wayland Union. Belding reached the state semifinals in 2010.