Centreville Aiming to Take Next Step

By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com

April 12, 2016

The sleepy village of Centreville was even quieter last June 13 when seemingly every resident trekked to East Lansing to watch the Bulldogs’ varsity baseball team take on Muskegon Catholic Central in the MHSAA Division 4 championship game.

“When we were at Michigan State last year, what’s funny is that, we’re in a small town, but the whole small town was at Michigan State,” Centreville coach Mike Webster said. “If you were in Centreville that day, the bank could have been robbed; the grocery store could have been robbed. We had the directors of the MHSAA come up to us and tell us we had the biggest crowd out of anybody — Division 1, 2, 3 or 4 schools.

“That lets you know that this town was waiting for something like that. The support is there and my phone has been off the hook since that day last year. I know we’ll have that fan support and school support. It makes it that much more fun.”

It was a historic run for the Bulldogs last spring, one that included a 29-2 record, a Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph East championship, the program’s first Regional crown and a spot in the penultimate game. The Bulldogs fell to MCC by a score of 10-8 to finish as Division 4 runner-up.

Now there’s only one goal: Win it all.

In order to meet that expectation, the preseason No. 2-ranked team in D4 will have to rely heavily on the right arm of senior pitcher Michael Kool, who had a remarkable 0.97 ERA in 2015. The recent Calvin College commit said, “I just got to trust my stuff like I did last year.”

That’s even easier to do with the gloves supporting him.

“I have to trust my defense behind me,” he added. “I wouldn’t have a below 1.00 ERA without the defensive players behind me.”

Helping Kool pick up the slack on the mound this season will be junior Coletin Gascho, who posted a very impressive 1.57 ERA as the team’s third pitcher in 2015. Senior Jake Milliman will provide depth on the mound for the Bulldogs, as will sophomore Andrew Stevens.

The Bulldogs’ offense, which posted a .312 team batting average and a .433 on-base percentage in 2015, brings back six of its top seven hitters from a year ago. Seniors Jalen Brown and Nick Kelley are among those returners looking to improve upon an offense that didn’t produce great power numbers last year but was still effective from top to bottom.

Brown, who went on a tear during the playoffs, finished 2015 with a .430 batting average.

Kelley, a rare strikeout victim in 2015, posted an eye-opening .560 on-base percentage during the regular season to go along with a strong .396 batting average. Kool also will look to provide some offense in 2016 just as he did in 2015, when he led the team in home runs (two).

“I think we’re all hungry to get back to the state championship and finish the job this time,” Kool said.

Centreville returns almost all of its key defenders to this year’s roster. Kelley, who along with Kool will make up one of the most successful and experienced batteries around the state, will anchor the defense from behind the plate.

Sophomore centerfielder Nick Webber is a major asset with a year of experience under his belt.  Junior shortstop Brady Reynolds is just as invaluable.

“He’s (Reynolds) a very energetic kid, a very quick kid, and he’s a natural baseball player,” Brown said in describing why his teammate was the best defender on the Bulldogs’ roster.

This veteran group knows, however, this spring will be quite different being chased instead of being the pursuant.  

“We have always had a very competitive conference,” Webster said. “With the returning players we will be having, we expect teams to not overlook us.”

“All last season, our little quote on the team was play every game like it’s a District championship game,” Kelley explained. “This year it’s going to be play every game like it’s a state title game.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Centreville's baseball team celebrates last season's Division 4 Semifinal win at Michigan State University. (Middle) Michael Kool unloads a pitch on the way to earning the 2-1 victory over Rudyard.

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.)