Bay City Western Ascends to 1st Final

June 14, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Bay City Western baseball coach Tim McDonald has had enough strong teams over 21 seasons to win 563 games.

Thursday night, he talked with his players about separating themselves from those previous teams by taking the program to its first MHSAA Final.

Riding the skilled left arm of senior Brett Adcock, top-ranked Western earned that opportunity by beating No. 4 Sterling Heights Stevenson 4-2 in their Division 1 Semifinal on Friday at Bailey Park.

The Warriors will face No. 6 Birmingham Brother Rice for the title at 9:30 Saturday morning. 

“We knew we could make it this year,” said Adcock, a three-year varsity player who will throw next season at the University of Michigan. “It’s a great feeling to be able to get (McDonald) there, and to get us there, and to have a chance to win a state championship.”

McDonald – an All-America pitcher at Central Michigan University who was drafted by both the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics – brought teams to the Semifinals twice before. Both suffered six-run losses – 9-3 to Grosse Pointe North in 2006 and 6-0 to Saline in 2009.

Those teams and this one are three of eight he’s coached to at least 30 wins. But this team – made up of players who have been teammates or little league opponents since elementary school – is the first to eclipse the 40-win plateau. Western is 41-2.

Adcock said it’s because of an attitude instilled by his coach that keeps his players driving for more. McDonald credits “good, fundamental baseball” – aggressive base-running and clutch hitting that’s kept the Warriors from playing a bad game all spring.

Having a Division I prospect on the mound also doesn’t hurt. Adcock gave up three hits and struck out six in throwing a complete game and moving his personal record this season to 12-0.

Western scored first, in the top of the fifth inning, when senior rightfielder Brendan Taberski singled, stole second and later crossed the plate on a double steal after junior shortstop Seth Freed drew a throw by taking off for second from first.

Stevenson evened the score in the bottom of the inning, but the Warriors went ahead for good when senior catcher Grant Bridgewater singled in sophomore designated hitter Carson Eby in the sixth inning.

Titans senior Johno Rodriguez also threw well, allowing only four hits before leaving the game with one out in the sixth. Stevenson (28-9) scored its lone run when junior second baseman Dean Emanuele bunted home sophomore shortstop Riley McCauley.

“There’s been something special about this team all year, since day one,” McDonald said. “This team has separated themselves in every possible way, and hopefully we can put a pretty big exclamation mark on an incredible season.”

Birmingham Brother Rice 5, Howell 0

Brother Rice (32-8-1) scored two runs in the bottom of the third inning and wouldn’t need more as junior Matt Ruppenthal threw a four-hit shutout, striking out five without walking a batter.

He also had three hits in four at bats and an RBI for the Warriors, who will play in their first MHSAA Final since winning a title in 2008.

Junior first baseman Randy Righter also was 3-for-4, scoring two runs and driving in one. Sophomore third baseman Alex Malzone drove in two runs.

Senior Tyler Bradner was one of four Highlanders to hit safely,  and he also threw an inning and an out of relief.

Howell, ranked No. 5 entering the postseason, was playing in its second straight Semifinal and finished this spring 33-8. 

Click for full box scores.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bay City Western senior Brett Adcock fires a pitch on the way to a complete-game victory Friday. (Middle) Brother Rice sophomore Alex Malzone hits a drive and finished with two RBI in the Warriors' win over Howell. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)