East Lansing — Rockford sophomore Luke McLean looked right at home Thursday at Michigan State’s McLane Baseball Stadium.
McLean scored the winning run with aggressive base running, giving Rockford a 3-2 Division 1 state baseball semifinal victory against Macomb Dakota in eight innings, in a game played in a steady rain.
“It’s awesome — an awesome atmosphere, an awesome field,” McLean said. “It’s the end (Saturday). We’ve just got to clutch it out at the end.”
Rockford (28-9) will play at 9 a.m. Saturday for its first championship since 2011 against Portage Northern.
With two outs in the eighth inning, McLean rounded third base hard after junior Owen Cairns reached on an error, scoring the winning run.
McLean threw two scoreless innings in relief, setting down six straight batters after allowing a leadoff double to Dakota’s Patrick Merolla in the seventh inning.
Junior catcher Jeff Reseigh had two hits to lead the offense for Dakota (21-17-1). His sixth inning single through the box scored a pair of runs and gave his team a 2-1 lead, a hit set up by a Greg Guzik double.
Down late, Rockford coach Matt Vriesenga said he reminded his team about their resiliency, as the team had already won two games in the eighth inning in the state tournament.
“I saw our guys deflated a little bit, I just wanted to remind them that we’ve been there before,” Vriesenga said. “Three weeks ago, I did not see this happening. We were a good team, but I did not see this happening.
“But they proved me wrong. We’ve been coming to practice, working on the little things all year long.
“It’s a super special team, and I’m really excited for them.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Rockford pinch-hitter Isaac Toole hit a two-out single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Alex Miller then hit an RBI single to left field for a 2-2 score.
Senior catcher Cody Sterkenburg started the winning Rockford rally in the eighth with a single.
McLean ripped a single to move him to second, and a fielder’s choice on a Miller grounder set up the winning play.
Cairns hit a dribbler to third base which was thrown wide to first base, dragging the Dakota fielder off the bag for Cairns to reach safely.
McLean alertly headed home to send Rockford to Saturday’s final.
“All that was going through my mind was my seniors,” McLean said. “I was playing for them. I really wanted to play for them in the state championship, and I was just busting my tail down that line to score.”
Sterkenburg added a two-out RBI single in the third for Rockford, which got a strong starting performance by right-hander Zach Marshall, who threw six innings, allowing two runs and striking out five. Marshall scored on Sterkenburg’s hit after his own single.
For Dakota, righty Matt Biebuyck allowed one run over seven innings and had five strikeouts in the program’s first trip to the state semifinal.
Coach Gerald Carley’s Dakota team, which entered the game winning eight of 11 for an improbable run to East Lansing, will graduate six seniors.
All games at McLane Stadium, Michigan State, East Lansing
Rockford 3, Macomb Dakota 2 (8 innings)
Portage Northern 3, Birmingham Brother Rice 0
Final: Saturday, 9 a.m.
Orchard Lake St. Mary's 10, Muskegon Oakridge 0
Grand Rapids Catholic Central 3, Trenton 2
Final: Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Pewamo-Westphalia vs. Homer, 9 a.m.
Grosse Pointe Woods vs. Gladstone, 11:30 a.m.
Final: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Petersburg Summerfield vs. Gaylord St. Mary, 2:30 p.m.
Saginaw Nouvel vs. Decatur, 5 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.