1971: MHSAA Launches 'Big One' for Baseball

June 13, 2016

By Ron Pesch
Special for Second Half

“It’s a big one,” said state director of athletics Al Bush, when asked about organizing the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s inaugural baseball tournament back in January 1971. “The idea has been under study for more than three years.”

After discussions with the MHSAA Representative Council, in mid-December a committee of seven coaches from various parts of the state gathered and built the framework for the tournament, according to Associated Press reports.

Still ranked among the Top 10 all-time fall classics, the Detroit Tigers’ 1968 World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals meant interest in the national pastime was on the rise in Michigan.

Bush noted that about 650 Michigan high schools had sponsored baseball in 1970, and that plans for organizing the pending tournament were much like those for basketball, with Districts and Regionals. Circulars sent out by the MHSAA asking about planned participation indicated nearly 500 schools intended to play in the tournament. As in other sports, except basketball, plans were to host separate tournaments for the Upper and Lower Peninsula due to weather conditions experienced above the Mackinac Bridge.

While a number of cities in the past had hosted baseball tournaments where schools from around the state had been invited to participate, the MHSAA had never previously sponsored a statewide tournament. Perhaps the most well-known was one hosted in Battle Creek for about 10 seasons in the 1940s and 1950s.

In April 1971, Districts were announced, with qualifying round play scheduled for May 17-27 and Pre-District contests planned for May 29 that would allow the field of teams to be cut to four for the Districts. A total of 594 teams entered the Lower Peninsula tournament. The Finals for all classes were scheduled for June 19.

“I think you could draw it out of a hat and call a certain team a favorite, and you’d be correct,” said MHSAA Associate Director Vern Norris 45 years ago when discussing the uncharted territory of that first tournament. “There’s just no basis for comparison. I think we can say the teams competing Saturday are the cream of the crop, although in any tourney competition some good teams are eliminated early.”

“Overall, we’ve been very pleased,” he continued. “No. There haven’t been any major problems. The umpiring has been good and the support from the schools excellent. The person who really helped us out was the weatherman.”

All 48 Regional games were played without a hitch. In years past (and in years to come), weather had played havoc with previous tournaments.

Four sites were used for the games. Class A was played at Wyandotte Memorial Field, while Class B was hosted at Battle Creek Central. Class C contests were scheduled at Marshall High School with Class D at Central Michigan University’s Alumni Field in Mount Pleasant. Semifinal games were scheduled for 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., with finals scheduled at 3:30 p.m. at each location.

The Detroit area emerged with three of the four titles, with games played beneath hot and humid weather.  

Jim Saad, recruited to Colorado State to play football, smacked a 355-foot two-run homer to left field in the opening inning of the Finals as Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher blanked Royal Oak Kimball 3-0 before 1,200 fans for the Class A crown. Greg Boos tossed a two-hitter for the Lancers, striking out 10 along the way. It was the first of three Class A baseball titles won by Gallagher and their coach Jim Bresciami, who would lead his teams to 545 wins between 1965 and 1985. The Detroit Catholic League’s First Division East champion, Gallagher finished with a 32-5 record on the year. Right-hander Boos ended the season with an 11-2 mark.

Detroit Lutheran West posted 24 wins against a single defeat, scoring a 4-1 win over Pinconning for the Class B title. A bases-loaded single by Fred Schebor in the fifth inning brought in two runs to break open a 1-1 tie. Bill Lindblom was responsible for West’s other two runs, driving in runners with a single in the second inning and a double in the sixth. Junior Leon Druckenmiller struck out six and scattered six hits for the Leopards for the win. Earlier in the day, John Paloni struck out 18 batters in West’s 3-0 Semifinal win over Wayland.

Hamtramck St. Ladislaus took advantage of a pair of third inning errors, scoring two runs in the team’s 3-0 win over Dearborn Sacred Heart. Tom Crepeau pitched a four-hitter and struck out seven, while Paul Janas led the victors with two singles and a double in the Final. The win avenged a pair of nonleague losses to Sacred Heart during the regular season. Rick Radzinski pitched a two-hitter and drove in three runs in Ladislaus’ 7-1 Semifinal win over Sanford-Meridian.

Managed by 1952 alumnus Jim Powell, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart rebounded from an early 8-1 deficit in its Semifinal game with Marion for a 16-12 win, gaining a birth in the Class D championship game against Portland St. Patrick. The Irish’s Roger Therman then pitched a four-hitter in a 5-1 win over St. Patrick.

To the north, with its later thaw, the high school baseball season continued to revolve around summer American Legion baseball but also two U.P. high school leagues: the Eastern Upper Peninsula High School Baseball League (EUP) and Western Upper Peninsula High School Baseball League (WUP). In its 14th year of operation, the WUP saw Ironwood post an 11-1 record against six league opponents to earn the 1971 league championship, while Rudyard repeated as champs with a 12-4 season in the nine-team EUP.

Today, the U.P.’s most famous baseball player remains Kevin Tapani, a 1981 graduate of Escanaba, who pitched for 13 years in the Major League. Tapani quarterbacked the Escanaba Eskymos to the MHSAA Class A football title in 1981, yet never threw a pitch for his high school because of the weather.

Forty-five years later, Mother Nature continues to influence baseball in the Upper Peninsula – although over time Upper Peninsula schools began taking part with those from the Lower Peninsula in a statewide MHSAA Tournament. The first U.P. team to make the Semifinals in baseball was Sault Ste. Marie in 1988. 

This season, 21 Upper Peninsula schools sponsored varsity baseball teams, as gradually some have brought back programs long in hibernation – Gladstone, for example, made the Division 3 Semifinals in 2014 after bringing back a baseball program the year before that hadn't played since 1959.

Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Lutheran West stands together for a team photo; it won the inaugural Class B title. (Middle) Champions of the first MHSAA Tournament, in 1971, included Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher, Hamtramck St. Ladislaus and Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. 

No Runs, No Hits: East Jordan Aces Toss 4 Straight Shutouts, 3 Straight No-Hitters

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

May 17, 2024

Playing shortstop this year for East Jordan High School admittedly has become rather boring at times.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThere hasn’t been a whole lot of action at what’s usually the busiest spot in the infield — no matter who is playing it.

Junior Eli Burns knows that better than anyone. He is the Red Devils’ regular shortstop. He also pitches.

Ryder Malpass knows what it’s like to play short this season as well – he’s normally in the spot when Burns is on the mound.

But he also has a feel for how little the shortstop does regularly for the Division 4 No. 16 Red Devils from his usual spot at catcher – receiving behind the plate for a pitching staff averaging almost two strikeouts per inning. 

Just recently, East Jordan put together three straight no-hitters and four straight shutouts.

“It’s good,” Burns said of playing short. “When you have confidence with your pitchers you don’t have to worry about the ball being hit to you that much.”

Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. Malpass, a junior, started the shoutout string himself with a 4-0 win over Bellaire last week, when he earned the win throwing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts while going 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and RBI. Junior Korbyn Russell closed out the game.

Then Burns started the no-hitter run in the second game that night with Bellaire, a 6-0 Red Devils win. Burns had 10 strikeouts and just a single walk allowed. He also tripled in the game.

This week the no-hitter string continued with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Boyne City. Russell and senior Lucas Stone threw the Red Devils’ third and fourth no-hitters of the season.

Stone threw a perfect game across six innings. He struck out 12 batters on just 70 pitches and also went 2 for 3 with an RBI against the Ramblers. Russell earned the 1-0 win over Boyne City with 5 1/3 no-hit innings behind 11 strikeouts and with just a lone walk allowed. Stone followed Russell to pick up the save for the Red Devils, now 13-9-1 overall on the season and 6-4 in Lake Michigan Conference play.  

Russell is 6-2 on the season with two saves. Going into Thursday’s game with Charlevoix, he had struck out 92 batters over 42 innings while compiling a 0.86 ERA. Stone is 5-2. Before suffering his second loss of the season to the Rayders, his ERA was 1.17 and he had fanned 38 in 36 innings of work. Burns has racked up 17 strikeouts so far in just over 14 innings.

“It’s pretty special to be a part of something not many teams can do,” Russell said. “We have a special group of pitchers to get the job done.”

Stone credits the Red Devils’ defensive play for the pitching staff’s success.

“Our defense has helped the pitching a lot because they don’t make a lot of errors,” Stone said.  “It makes it a lot easier when you know they are going to make plays behind you.”

Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch.East Jordan came into this week beginning to approach the state records for consecutive shutout innings and games. That ended yesterday in twin bill losses to Division 3 No. 11 Charlevoix. But the Red Devils still can chase the national record of nine no-hit games in a season. (No official record is kept for no-hitters by a Michigan high school team in a season.)

There is also no known record of any East Jordan team racking up three no-hitter wins in a row.

“I don’t think there’s been any stretch with three no-hitters in a row, so that is pretty special,” noted East Jordan coach Adam Grybauskas. “We’re kind of picking up where things were last year and trying to build on last year’s success and make it even better this year.”

The Red Devils captured a Division 4 District championship in 2023 and then a 9-6 Regional Semifinal win over Gaylord St. Mary. The season came to an end in the Regional Final with a 2-0 loss to Painsdale Jeffers.

Russel, Stones and Burns were on the pitching staff last year as East Jordan made that run. The Red Devils will host the District tournament this year as familiar opponents Bellaire, Central Lake and Ellsworth will vie to stop East Jordan’s attempt at repeating as champion. The doubleheader loss to undefeated Charlevoix ended the Red Devils’ hopes of sharing the LMC title with the Rayders.

“I think we’ve played a little bit better competition this year,’ Grybauskas said.  “Our focus this year is taking each doubleheader at a time, and try to get better each week.

“It’s really been game by game and week to week,” he continued. “You’re always looking to do better than last year so obviously that will be something we’ll talk about in the future.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) East Jordan’s Lucas Stone winds up during a game. (Middle) Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. (Below) Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch. (Photos courtesy of the East Jordan athletic department.)