NORTON SHORES – The Western Michigan Christian baseball team only led Ludington once on Tuesday in its battle for the Lakes 8 conference championship – and that was at the very end, when it counted the most.

The Warriors trailed 2-0 after one inning, 3-0 in the third, 4-3 in the fifth, and 5-4 in the xixth, but fought back each time to tie it.

Then came their final at-bat in the bottom of the seventh with the score knotted 5-5. The Warriors managed to load the bases and Jonathon Cluusing came to the plate, ready to knock in the winning run.

As it turned out that wasn’t necessary, because a pitch got away from the Ludington catcher and Samuel Van Orman, who had doubled moments before, was on third base and broke for home.

The Western Michigan Christian baseball team celebrates after its walk-off win that sealed the Lakes 8 conference championship.

The catcher had trouble finding the ball, there was no play at the plate and Van Orman easily, giving the Warriors a dramatic 6-5 victory and the final Lakes 8 baseball championship in history, because the conference is dissolving after this season.

“I kind of did,” said Van Orman when asked if he hesitated a moment before breaking for home plate. “Then I saw the ball bounce in the air, and I thought, “I’ve got to score on this.’ I made it home, and we got the win.

“It was pretty exciting. I was screaming my lungs out when I touched home plate, then the whole team came out and started hitting me everywhere!”

The Warriors demonstrated the value of being patient and not panicking when things go badly. Ludington kept scoring and taking leads, but WMC kept battling back and waiting for its opportunity to steal the win.

That was not a surprise to Coach Mark Hill, because his team has rallied for victories several times this season.

WMC pitcher Sam Sipe, who tossed a complete-game victory for the Warriors.

“Like I just told the guys, sometimes I think we play better when we’re down,” Hill said. “They just come back to the dugout after the other team scores and say, ‘No problem, we got this.’ We’ve been in spots like this several times. I was never in doubt.”

On the top of the patience chart was WMC pitcher Sam Sipe.

The junior hurler was called for a balk in the first inning, allowing a run to score, then gave up another run on an RBI groundout.

He gave up two hits and a walk in the inning, besides the balk, and was lucky to get out of the first with only a two-run deficit.

But Sipe did not let the rough start bug him. He improved as the game went on, getting key outs when necessary to keep the game close.

WMC’s Caleb McKay breaks out of the batter’s box after connecting on a pitch.

He was throwing his best by the seventh inning, when he coaxed an easy grounder out of the leadoff hitter, then recorded two strikeouts to end the side and set his team up to score the winning run.

Sipe surrendered eight hits and two walks, but also struck out eight in the victory.

“I knew the guys were going to help me out,” Sipe said about not panicking when his team got behind.  “They are always behind me. I knew we were going to stroke the ball and get some runs in.”

“That’s been his MO all season – he gets behind and tends to come back,” Coach Hill said about Sipe. “That’s why I had him pitch tonight.”

Ludington took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when Evan McCarthy and Gage Jones singled, McCarthy scored from third on a balk call, then Wilson Gunsell delivered an RBI grounder to third.

The Orioles took a 3-0 lead in the third when Stephen Weinert walked and Gabe Hogenson drove him home with a double.

A WMC runner dives back into first base after a pickoff attempt.

WMC tied the score in the bottom of the third when Van Orman delivered an RBI single by beating out a throw to first base, then two more runs scored later in the inning on a Ludington error.

The Orioles took a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth when Hogenson hit an RBI single. The Warriors tied the game 4-4 in the bottom of the inning when Sipe delivered an RBI single.

Ludington took its final lead in the top of the sixth when Jonathon Weinert hit an RBI single on a full count pitch, giving the visitors a 5-4 edge.

The Warriors knotted the score once again in the bottom of the sixth, due to some Ludington fielding troubles. Jamie Cho hit a long fly ball to right field that was dropped by the outfielder, then scored when Caleb McKay reached base on a ground ball to short that was mishandled.

WMC won the game in the bottom of the seventh, after there was one out.

Van Orman hit a double to left-center field, Sipe received an intentional walk, then Alex Wagemaker singled to left, loading the bases. Clausing stepped up to the plate with the game on the line, then the pitch got away from the Ludington catcher, Van Orman scored, and the Warriors were suddenly conference champions.

“It feels good,” Coach Hill said. “This was our first conference championship maybe since the 90s, I believe. We have a great coaching staff, there’s a lot of excitement around the program, partly I think because of our new field here, and in middle school right now we have a bunch of players coming up. Baseball is on the upswing at WMC.”

“It’s definitely something we looked forward to,” Sipe added about winning the conference. “In the beginning of the year that was one of our goals, and having that conference title in mind just made us work extra hard.”