Bridgman Finishes 'Miracle' Title Pursuit with 1st Championship since 1987

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 17, 2023

EAST LANSING - There’s exceeding a coach’s expectations, and then there is exceeding the expectations Bridgman head coach Justin Hahaj had for his team when the 2023 season started.

“I went through the schedule and thought we’d be a .500 baseball team,” Hahaj said. 

Bridgman ended up being 24 games – and a Division 3 championship – better than that.

The Bees ended up 33-9, with the last win a 7-1 victory over No. 1-ranked Algonac in the Final on Saturday at Michigan State University’s McLane Stadium.

The title was Bridgman baseball’s first since 1987.

“This is a miracle what happened with this group,” Hahaj said. “It’s just a testament to what happens when people play for each other.”

Nolan Roberts (2) and a teammate celebrate. It was the second time Hahaj had coached Bridgman in Final, with the first in 2013 when the Bees lost to Madison Heights Bishop Foley. 

Bridgman hadn’t been beyond the District round of the MHSAA Tournament since, with hurdles such as 2022 Division 3 champion Buchanan and Niles Brandywine always standing in the way during the opening week. 

In a District Final this year, Bridgman used an incredible comeback against Niles Brandywine to get past that barrier. The Bees rallied from a 9-1 deficit to beat Brandywine in 10 innings, 10-9. 

Bridgman then recorded one-run wins in a Regional Final (4-3 over Grass Lake), Quarterfinal (4-3 over Ottawa Lake Whiteford in nine innings) and Semifinal (3-2 over Standish-Sterling) to earn a shot at Algonac. 

“The team that comes out of that District — because we play such good baseball against each other — is just primed and ready for tournament runs,” Hahaj said. 

Bridgman completed its long tournament run thanks to the pitching of sophomore Charlie Pagel. By no means a hard thrower, Pagel confounded Algonac with guile and an assortment of breaking pitches, tossing a 3-hitter.

He struck out five and walked one.

“I don’t throw very fast, so I just wanted to keep them off-balance with the off-speed and that was about it,” Pagel said. 

Making its first appearance in a Final, Algonac finished 38-4. 

Bridgman’s Charlie Pagel delivers a pitch.In addition to not being able to figure out Pagel, defensive miscues also proved costly for the Muskrats. 

“You know every pitcher is going to be a strike thrower when you get to this situation,” Algonac head coach Scott Thaler said of Pagel. “I thought he did a nice job of getting strike one over. His curveball was working, so he was able to get some groundballs. We didn’t really do a good job of adjusting to those curveballs and off-speed pitches.”

Bridgman opened the scoring with three runs in the bottom of the third inning, taking a 1-0 lead after loading the bases with one out.

An infield popup eluded Algonac and landed fair, and while the batter was out due to the infield fly rule, a run was able to score. Senior Riley Gloe then singled up the middle to score two runs, one of which was earned and another unearned following an Algonac throwing error. Senior Nolan Roberts then blooped a double down the right-field line to score a run and make it 4-0 Bees.  

Bridgman added two runs in the fifth inning on an RBI single by Roberts and a fielder’s choice. 

Algonac finally broke through in its half of the sixth, cutting Bridgman’s lead to 6-1 on an RBI single by junior Evan Sadler. But Bridgman got that run back in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI double by Pagel to make it 7-1. 

Pagel, Gloe, Roberts and junior Alec MacMartin each had two hits to lead the 10-hit attack for Bridgman. 

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Bridgman scores one of its seven runs during Saturday’s Division 3 championship game. (Middle) Nolan Roberts (2) and a teammate celebrate. (Below) Bridgman’s Charlie Pagel delivers a pitch. (Photos by John Castine/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

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.