EAST LANSING – Traverse City Francis relied primarily on a two-headed monster to get it to the Division 3 Semifinals this season.
But once there, another formidable force emerged for the Gladiators.
The dynamic duo all season has been junior ace Charlie Peterson and senior catcher Aidan Schmuckal, and those two delivered again for St. Francis in a 5-4 win over Richmond at McLane Stadium.
Schmuckal went 2-for-3 with two RBI, while Peterson allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings pitched despite laboring at the end and being taken out in the fifth after throwing 109 pitches.
But that’s where the third hero of the day entered for St. Francis.
Senior Jack Hitchens entered for Peterson in the fifth and settled the game down, tossing 2 2/3 innings of scoreless to relief to help lock down the game for the Gladiators.
Hitchens allowed just one hit.
“Just hitting your spots and throwing strikes,” Hitchens said of what made his outing effective. “Hit the outside corner, and it’s really hard for high school athletes to hit that.”
St. Francis advanced to the Final for the first time since 2017, when it finished runner-up to Madison Heights Bishop Foley.
The Gladiators (28-9) won Thursday despite committing five errors.
“We made uncharacteristic errors, but the kids just battled,” head coach Tom Passinault said. “Charlie’s pitch count went a lot higher and quicker than we thought. Jack Hitchens just did a tremendous job against a really good team.”
Richmond (30-6) likely will lament missed opportunities, as the Blue Devils left 10 runners on base and couldn’t score with the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth inning.
“All year long, we were able to get that key hit,” Richmond head coach Scott Evans said. “Whether it was pressure or heat, we couldn’t. Give their guys credit.”
St. Francis opened the scoring in the first when Cody Richards hit an RBI single to score Schmuckal, who had reached on a walk and took second on a sacrifice bunt.
St. Francis added two more runs in the second inning, loading the bases and then taking a 3-0 lead on an opposite-field two-run double down the right field line by Schmuckal.
Hitchens then made it 4-0 St. Francis on an RBI groundout to second base.
Richmond answered in the third inning, taking advantage of a two-out error by St. Francis and cutting its deficit to 4-1 on an RBI single by Hudson Davenport.
Richmond had its golden opportunity in the fourth inning when it loaded the bases with nobody out, but Peterson struck out Richmond’s first three hitters in the lineup to get out of the jam.
The Blue Devils did strike in the fifth inning, scoring three runs to tie the game at 4-4. The big blow was a two-run double to the wall in left-center by Jackson Jones.
St. Francis responded in its half of the fifth, taking a 5-4 lead on a single by Josh Groves.
“They just don’t know when to be nervous,” Passinault said of his team. “They just play even-keel.”
Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 2, Buchanan 0
The final Semifinal of the day was the quickest, mainly because it was a terrific pitchers duel between Liggett junior Kurt Barr and Buchanan junior Matt Hoover.
Barr was just a bit better, tossing a two-hit shutout to lead Liggett to a 2-0 victory over Buchanan and its second-straight trip to the Division 3 Final.
“I’ve been going with my slider all season, but today my curveball was going in the pen,” Barr said. “From the second inning on, I only threw the curveball and ditched the slider. The slider has been the pitch I’ve been rolling with all season.”
Liggett, which lost to Homer in the 2019 championship game, will play Traverse City St. Francis.
“Everything clicked,” Liggett head coach Dan Cimini said. “When you get this far, you know you are going to run into pitching like that, and you have to be able to combat that. You combine that by having great pitching with it and great defense.”
Liggett (30-5) scored the only two runs of the game in the top of the first inning, the first coming on an RBI single by Matt Greene.
The next came courtesy of Ryan Jones, who doubled down the right field line to make it 2-0 Liggett.
That was more than enough support for Barr, who struck out nine and walked just one.
Barr did run into a bit of trouble in the fourth inning, when Buchanan put runners on second and third with two outs.
But Barr induced a groundout to end the threat.
Hoover was stellar as well, tossing a three-hitter, striking out five and walking five.
Sophomore Jarren Purify reached base three times and scored a run to lead Liggett offensively.
Buchanan finished its season 34-3.
“I’m proud of the way the boys competed,” Buchanan head coach Jim Brawley said. “This is a working group. … These kids came to work every day, and I’m proud of them for that.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City St. Francis’ Cody Richards takes the throw at first as Richmond’s Hudson Davenport speeds down the line. (Middle) University Liggett’s Kurt Barr makes his move toward the plate.
Brad Bush, a highly-respected educator, administrator and coach over the last three decades, has been selected to serve in the position of assistant director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, beginning Jan. 17.
Bush, 52, taught and coached at East Kentwood High School for four years before beginning a tenure at Chelsea High School in 1997 that has included teaching, then serving as athletic director and later also assistant principal and leading the football program as varsity coach from 1997-2002 and again from 2004-18.
He also has served as a statewide delegate on the MHSAA Representative Council during the last year and provided leadership in multiple roles, including president, for the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) since 2005.
Bush will serve as the MHSAA’s lead administrator for baseball and also among lead administrators for the officials program, which includes more than 8,000 registered officials in all sports. Bush also will be assigned additional duties in other sports based on his vast experiences. He was selected from a pool of 34 applicants.
“I’m incredibly excited to have Brad join our team,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. "He’s been an outstanding athletic director and coach who is highly-respected by those who know him.”
As Chelsea athletic director, Bush annually has supervised a staff of 110 coaches across 31 programs, with nearly 70 percent of the high school’s 800 students participating in athletics. As a teacher and assistant principal, he has served on Chelsea’s School Improvement Team and on multiple committees that provided instructional leadership including in the development of the district’s new trimester schedule. In his roles with the MHSFCA, Bush helped direct an organization with more than 2,200 members and also served as the association’s treasurer and liaison to the MHSAA.
Bush is perhaps best known, however, for his coaching success. Over 22 seasons, he led Chelsea’s varsity football team to a 169-60 record, 13 league championships, 18 playoff appearances, seven District titles and a Division 3 runner-up finish in 2015. During his break in tenure as Chelsea coach, Bush served as an assistant football coach and recruiting coordinator for Eastern Michigan University during the 2003-04 school year, and he has served as an assistant coach at Albion College the last four seasons contributing to the team’s two league titles and appearance in the 2021 NCAA Division III Playoffs.
“I feel like joining the team at the MHSAA is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Bush said. “The 26 years I spent at Chelsea were some of the best times of my life. It’s a professional transition that in the back of my mind, if this opportunity came, was something I needed to do.
“Over time, I’ve grown to care about the bigger picture of athletics and appreciate the role of the MHSAA in protecting high school athletics in Michigan.”
Bush is a 1988 graduate of Ypsilanti High School. He studied and played quarterback at Cornell University before returning and graduating from EMU after majoring in history and minoring in social studies. He earned his physical education endorsement from EMU in 2000 and his master’s in physical education and sports management from EMU in 2002. He has earned continuing education credits in sports management from Drake University and completed the Path to Leadership program from the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP).
Bush was inducted into MHSFCA Hall of Fame and Ypsilanti High School Hall of Fame both in 2019. He and his wife Laura have three adult children, two daughters and a son.
PHOTO Chelsea coach Brad Bush directs his team during the 2015 Division 3 Final at Ford Field.