Holland Christian coach has taken two programs to state titles, in the hunt for another
Holland – Jim Caserta never planned on coaching baseball again after leaving Holland West Ottawa, and he certainly never considered being part of Michigan baseball history.
Now the Holland Christian coach has a shot at what would notching a different type of history.
Caserta became the first baseball coach in state history to win state championships at two schools after Holland Christian’s 8-5 win over Linden in year’s Division 2 championship game. Caserta won his first title in 2003 when West Ottawa upset Birmingham Brother Rice 5-2 in the Division 1 final.
Should the Maroons (31-7) defeat Allendale in Saturday’s 11 a.m. Division 2 regional semifinal at Hope College, and go on to win the state title, Caserta would become just the second Grand Rapids area coach to manage back-to-back state champions. Former major leaguer Brent Gates led Grand Rapids Christian to a pair of Division 1 titles in 2012-13.
Caserta said he wasn’t even aware that winning two championships at different schools constituted state history until he picked up a coach of the year award at a postseason banquet.
"It was a blessing. I never planned on coming to Holland Christian, but the Lord works in unique ways," he said. "I got the opportunity to coach football and baseball here and it was a great opportunity for me.
"So many coaches don’t get to win once and I respect them. To be a part of two is a real blessing. We had great kids at both places, kids who competed and enjoyed playing baseball."
Caserta has enjoyed excellent success at both schools. The West Ottawa club became the first Grand Rapids area school to win a Class A/Division I state title since the tournament began in 1971. Grand Rapids area teams have won only three titles in that class/division as Hudsonville won a championship in 2012 after Rockford won a year earlier.
Holland Christian’s state title in 2016 was the school’s first.
Caserta said there are definite similarities between the West Ottawa and Holland Christian clubs as well as striking differences. Both possessed outstanding pitching as West Ottawa was led by eventual University of Michigan right-hander David Nykerk as well as Norby Reyes who pitched at Hillsborough Community College in Tennessee.
The current Holland Christian team has two frontline pitchers in Western Michigan-bound Jack Huisman (7-1 record) and sophomore Chris Mokma (8-1). The team also has depth as senior Spencer Brewer, who appeared in both district games last weekend, will pitch at Trinity Christian College in Illinois next season.
"Absolutely in high school baseball, pitching is the key," Caserta said. "With the new pitch count rules, it’s different now but you need the pitching,"
The difference between the teams comes on the offensive side. West Ottawa featured a lineup in which every starter hit at least two home runs. Conversely, Holland Christian hit two homers on a short field in this year’s opener and has only added two more since.
Holland Christian’s top hitter is senior outfielder Christian Koele, who is batting .330. No one has hit more than one homer as the Maroons rely more on a lineup which hits doubles, gets on base and scores a run at a time.
"We have guys who can execute," Caserta said. "We’re capable of hitting doubles and moving the ball around. We struggle as a team with power, but we hit for average. Our offense is kinda unique, but it works for us."
Another similarity between the teams is grit. Caserta said much less was expected of West Ottawa as few thought the Panthers would become the inaugural Grand Rapids area team to win a Class A state title. The current Holland Christian club lost five starters from the state champion roster, including five players who were on college rosters this spring. Both battled minimal expectations in the postseason.
"Both were teams who really pulled for each other and did well," Caserta said. "So many kids contributed to both teams, which is what made us so good."
Caserta said while Holland Christian may not be in the driver’s seat to repeat, the Maroons are definitely in the hunt.
"This time of year everyone is good," he said. "We have really good pitching and if that holds up we have a chance in every game. It’s different because we had more offensive power last year, but the pitching gives us a chance."