Ace Paces Richard's Championship Triumph

June 16, 2018

By Jason Schmitt
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – He’d seen a dropped third strike 100 times before Saturday’s championship game.

Excuse Riverview Gabriel Richard’s Matthew Silka for getting caught up in the moment.

With two outs in the seventh inning, the junior got a swinging third strike to seemingly clinch his team’s first MHSAA baseball title. But his biting breaking ball ended up in the dirt – so he looked at the catcher, then glanced at first. Finally, he turned and looked at his second baseman, who was charging toward him to celebrate.

At that moment, he figured it out. His team had just won the Division 3 championship, defeating reigning champ Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 3-0.

“I was so confused,” said Silka, smiling with a championship medal hanging from his neck. “That’s not an ideal way to end the game, because I’m not sure if we won or not. I was looking at the first base ump to see if he was going to call him out or not. We were all waiting for someone to say something.”

The game-ending strikeout was his seventh of the game, one he dominated from start to finish. Silka, a junior, allowed just one hit, that coming in the seventh inning. Prior to that single, he was on his way to becoming the first pitcher to toss a complete-game no hitter in MHSAA Finals history.

Instead, he became just the fifth pitcher in Finals history to allow just one hit in a complete game.

“I was trying to keep (the ball) to the corners, and not make too many mistakes and leave the ball over the heart of the plate,” Silka said. “I was just trying to throw strikes and help my teammates out.”

His teammates helped him out early on, scoring a run in the second, third and fourth innings to stake him to a 3-0 advantage.

The Pioneers scored their first run unconventionally. Leadoff batter Hayden Burke reached on a dropped third strike. The junior then moved over to second base on a walk to fellow junior Frank Klamerus. Those two advanced to second and third thanks to a pair of wild pitches. Burke then scored on a fielder’s choice by junior Hayden Flynn to make it 1-0.

In the third inning, Richard pieced together three singles – the last by Flynn plated junior Niko Maloney. In the fourth inning, the Pioneers used a walk, sacrifice bunt and an RBI-single by sophomore David Zubor to cap off their scoring, giving Silka more than he needed to get the job done.

“I think momentum is one of the biggest parts of the game,” Silka said. “That was really huge for us to get out in front. I knew once we had a lead and we got rolling, it was going to be a lot easier to pitch.”

Richard coach Mike Magier said Silka’s success was due to his ability to keep the Ventures off balance.

“He went through the lineup one time and he gained a little confidence, and he could use his secondary pitches a little bit more,” Magier said. “(Silka) has been a workhorse for us. He’s really been a competitor.

“He’s been our ace. He’s pitched against all our tough teams.”

Bishop Foley (19-18-1) could muster just one hit – from sophomore Liam Pollock to lead off the seventh inning. 

“That’s baseball,” Foley coach Tim McEvoy said. “We ran into a stud pitcher who threw strikes. He kept us off balance, and we weren’t able to get out in front of his fastball. That was the main issue. 

“I want to congratulate their coaching staff. They have a great staff and a great pitcher.”

For Richard (29-3), this could be just a taste of what’s to come next year. There are no seniors on the roster, so everyone should be back for another title run in 2019.

“I guess it’s kind of unusual,” said Magier, talking about a lack of seniors on his roster. “That (junior) class, as soon as they came in in ninth grade, we had three or four guys come up on varsity and we knew we had a pretty good class there. 

“It takes a lot to win a state championship, so we won’t take it for granted. We’re going to enjoy this one, and hopefully next year we can do the same.”

Click for the full box score.

VIDEO: Gabriel Richard pitcher Matthew Silka finishes his seventh strikeout, which wrapped up the 3-0 win over the Ventures.

PHOTOS: (Top) Gabriel Richard ace Matthew Silka makes his move toward the plate Saturday. (Middle) A Pioneers runner tries to slide in under the tag of Bishop Foley catcher Mason Minzey.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)