BC Western Writing Storybook Season with Celebrations, Early Success

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

April 26, 2023

Before a single pitch was thrown this season, there was plenty for the Bay City Western baseball program to be excited about.

Bay & ThumbSome of it was historic: Coach Tim McDonald entered the year three wins away from 800 in his career, and, during the season, the program is set to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the 2013 Division 1 championship team. 

But the present was just as exciting. 

Led by a strong group of seniors that started a program rebuild in 2021, the Warriors figured to have one of their strongest teams in years.

Then the pitches started getting thrown, and the excitement may have been kicked up a notch.

Western is 14-0 to start the season, and living up to its lofty expectations in a year where it just feels like everything is already a celebration.

“It’s kind of freaky the way it’s kind of lining up right now,” said senior pitcher Ben Kohany. “We have our goals in mind, but we’re still taking it game by game. Obviously, there is that pressure (from the program’s past success), but we’re just trying to take things slowly.”

Western’s success on the field this season is the result of a simple formula: good pitching, solid defense and the ability to manufacture runs. 

It’s a formula that helps the Warriors to focus on what’s directly in front of them, and not look ahead when they have big postseason goals that could otherwise distract them.

“We just play together as a team – we trust each other, make plays and get the job done,” junior catcher Bryce Neitzel said. “Every day in practice we work on the fundamentals. Especially with bunting, we do a station of bunting every day. I feel like it does help, because whenever we’re in a situation in a game, we’re prepared for the moment. We kind of expect it.”

It’s also a formula that has won McDonald and the Warriors a lot of games over his 31 years as a coach – 811, to be exact.

“We have a philosophy, things we emphasize and things we work on,” McDonald said. “We’re kind of known for our small ball, and we kind of got away from that. This year’s team, one of the many things they understand is that at some point, that’s going to become important. They’re just rock solid. They’re a good practice team, and that translates.”

The Warriors play in the Bay County Invitational on April 15.When the season began, McDonald had 797 career wins, which put him 12th on the MHSAA’s all-time list. It took just three games, and a bit of serendipity, to become the 11th coach in state history to reach 800.

The Warriors swept Flushing in their season-opening doubleheader, which gave McDonald the chance to get win No. 800 against his alma mater, Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, in a game that was a late addition to the schedule.

And just to make it a little more personal, Sacred Heart is coached by Earl Hartman, who coached McDonald and is one of the 10 ahead of him on the all-time list; and McDonald’s nephew, Joe McDonald, was the starting pitcher for the Irish.

“It sounds like a Hollywood script, but that’s just how it all fell into place,” McDonald said. “It was certainly a neat day, and that just added to it.”

While McDonald knew how close he was to the milestone coming into the season, he wasn’t planning on making a big deal of it. The people around him, of course, had other plans.

“They had cupcakes, and my AD got a plaque made for me,” McDonald said. “Somebody did some work behind the scenes, and all of that is appreciated. I’m proud to represent this program. If me, as the head coach, has a lot of wins, that means the school has a lot of wins. I’ve been fortunate to be in a good baseball community. They had good baseball before I came. I’m proud of the foundation that we built, and I think it’s just continued on.”

Getting to be part of that historic moment was a thrill for the current Western players.

“That was super cool,” senior third baseman Miles Yurgaites said. “That’s a lot of wins. It was a super cool moment, and a super fun day.”

The timing was also great for the Warriors, and not just because of the opponent in Game 3 of the season.

“I’m glad it happened early in the season,” McDonald said. “We got to enjoy the moment, and now we can move onto some of our goals that we set for ourselves. That worked out in a good way, as well. Now this team, they’ve become focused, because we still got a lot of work ahead of us. They’re staying humble in their approach, and every one of them knows they have some things they can get better at. As a coach, that’s all you can ask.”

Helping McDonald drive home that message is a trio of assistants who are Western alumni: Brian Patrick, Brendan “Bubba” Harrison and Brandon Wise. Patrick has been on the staff for 12 years, while Harrison (2013) and Wise (2014) were each part of Finals championship teams for the Warriors.

Not only does that give McDonald the luxury of coaching with people who know how a championship program is run, it also gives the Western players a daily look at what it takes to get back there.

“It does help,” Neitzel said. “They have all that experience, and they’ve shared all their memories with us. It makes us want to do what they did.”

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) Bay City Western celebrates coach Tim McDonald's 800th win April 8. (Middle) The Warriors play in the Bay County Invitational on April 15. (Photos courtesy of the Bay City Western baseball program.)

For Coach: Powers Completes 1st Title Run for 42-Year Leader Dutkowski

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

June 15, 2024

EAST LANSING — On behalf of this current Flint Powers Catholic baseball team, Saturday’s message was loud and clear to past players, alumni and school officials:

We finally did it for Tom. 

Tom would be longtime head coach Tom Dutkowski, who after 42 years and 872 wins finally got to coach in a state championship game Saturday. 

Not only did Powers get there for Dutkowski, but the Chargers delivered win No. 873 and his long-awaited first title as coach with an 11-0 defeat of Spring Lake in the Division 2 Final at McLane Stadium. 

“We just made Flint Powers history, and to be a part of that is amazing,” Powers senior Fischer Hendershot said. “We have a lot of alumni and a lot of alumni on the coaching staff. To do it for the coaching staff, everyone here, everyone in Powers, every alumni and everyone who cares about us is a great feeling.” 

The Chargers’ Fischer Hendershot delivers a pitch.After accepting the championship trophy and raising into the air triumphantly, Dutkowski reflected on the journey and long wait.

It was the third title for Powers baseball, joining the 1974 and 1980 championships. Dutkowski was an assistant on the 1980 team. 

“I played in ’73 here, and my joke for that was that I taught the ’74 guys everything they knew and then they won a state championship the next year,” Dutkowski said. “We won it in ’80 with just a gritty team. My third year as a head coach we got to the final four in Class A, and I figured this was going to happen every three years. And then it was a 39-year drought in terms of that.”

The game ended after five innings via the run differential rule and capped off a fairly dominant season for Powers — or at least as dominant as a baseball team can be for a season.

The Chargers finished 37-6 and outscored opponents by a combined 57-13 during the MHSAA Tournament.

The only close call during the playoffs came in Friday’s Semifinal, when Powers blew a 3-0 lead to Trenton before prevailing in the bottom of the eighth inning, 4-3, on a walk-off single by senior Gavin Darling. 

“These guys, they never flinched and they never wavered,” Dutkowski said. “They developed into being a great team, not just individual talent.”

Powers wasted no time against Spring Lake, taking a 2-0 lead with one out in the top of the first inning on a two-run double to the gap in left-center by Darling. After a ground out, Darling scored on a Spring Lake throwing error to give Powers a 3-0 lead. 

Powers added another run in the second inning on a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-0. 

Teammates congratulate Michael Klein (6) as he returns to the dugout.In the third, Powers scored four runs to take an 8-0 lead on an RBI single by Hendershot, a walk with the bases loaded and a two-run single by freshman Connor Kelly. 

Powers then put three more runs on the board in the fourth inning to take an 11-0 lead. 

Hendershot was the winner on the mound, allowing two hits and striking out five in five innings of work. 

Spring Lake also was attempting to win its first Finals title, but had to settle for its third runner-up finish (to go with those from 1995 and 1978). 

The Lakers finished 32-10. 

“They are a good team, and this was their year,” Spring Lake head coach Bill Core said. “We just couldn’t keep them off of the bases, and our pitching wasn’t as sharp as it’s been. We gave them a couple of free passes, and they mixed in some good hitting. That’s a good team, and that’s why they’ve been ranked No. 1 in the state all year.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Flint Powers Catholic raises its championship trophy to complete the 2024 baseball season Saturday evening at McLane Stadium. (Middle) The Chargers’ Fischer Hendershot delivers a pitch. (Below) Teammates congratulate Michael Klein (6) as he returns to the dugout.