Cool, Calm Contenders Move On in D1

June 16, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Wildly effective, and his record is deceptive.

Both phrases accurately described Warren DeLaSalle sophomore Nino Puckett as he pitched – and won – the biggest game of his life Thursday.

Puckett entered the Division 1 Semifinal against Traverse City West with more losses than wins this spring – and then put together a pitching line that included seven walks but only two hits as the Pilots advanced with a 3-1 win over the Titans.

In fact, Puckett had just two wins entering the postseason before doubling that total with victories in the District and Regional.

But all of this requires some additional perspective – all five of Puckett’s losses came in Detroit Catholic League play, as his team finished only fourth in the Central division while playing a combined nine games against either top-ranked Birmingham Brother Rice or reigning Division 2 champion Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. And he and his teammates certainly benefited from the tough competition.

“We went through our growing pains early on. A great league like we play in, it puts us in a position for games like today to not be able to shy away from the moment,” said DeLaSalle coach Matt Cook, who previously took a team with a sub-.500 record to the Division 1 Final in 2012. “Our guys were loose and having fun. They just keep doing it.”

The unranked Pilots (27-13) will play for their first MHSAA championship since 2009 against No. 2 Saline at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. 

Puckett and another sophomore, Easton Sikorski, have been the team’s aces this season. Sikorski came in to throw the final inning and get the save Thursday, and he’ll be on the mound Saturday.

Cook let Puckett know Monday that he’d be first up. 

“I was just trying to stay calm, do my daily routine,” Puckett said. “I was excited to pitch this game.

“That’s how his demeanor is all the time, and I think to be a pitcher in a situation like this, when he’s calm, cool and collected, his teammates feed off of it too,” Cook said. “The defense doesn’t get nervous when he walks a guy. He doesn’t get nervous when he walks a guy.”

West (41-3) struck first when junior Gavin Garmhausen drove home senior Nick Brzezinski in the third inning.

But Puckett wasn’t rattled. In fact, he didn’t give up another hit.

Sophomore Jake Badalamenti, meanwhile, continued to up the reputation of the Class of 2019 with a two-run single to give the Pilots a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning. The seniors added insurance in the sixth inning, when designated hitter Mike Kostuch drove home second baseman Matt Held.

Badalamenti was the only player on either team with multiple hits, reaching safely in both of his at bats. Another shining sophomore, West’s Ryan Hayes, struck out four and gave up only six hits in tossing a complete game for the Titans, who were playing in an MHSAA Semifinal for the first time.

West, ranked No. 9 heading into the postseason, beat two top-four teams on the way to East Lansing.

“We broke a lot of records this year. Winning 41 games, they’ve just competed this whole tournament, all year long,” West coach Matt Bocian said, “I have to tip my cap to my players for not giving up all day today, and all tournament.”

Click for the full box score.

Saline 5, Hartland 3

Saline senior Josh Nelson has become quite effective relieving pressure-packed situations for one of Michigan’s top high school teams.

Add champion slayer to his body of work as well.

Nelson threw the final 4 1/3 innings of Thursday’s second Semifinal, holding reigning Division 1 champion Hartland to two runs, and drove home the tying run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.

One run had scored and the bases were loaded when Nelson came into the game with two outs in the third inning and got a strikeout to end the Eagles’ rally.

"This is the third time this baseball tournament that I’ve come in with the bases loaded. I’ve become used to it, but it’s always stressful,” Nelson said. “But I was just glad that I was able to have the opportunity to help my team win a Semifinal and go to the state championship.” 

Saline (35-6) took a 2-0 lead in the second inning, but Hartland edged back over the next few with a run in the third and two in the top of the fifth. Nelson’s sacrifice brought home the first of three Saline runs that put the Hornets ahead and then the game out of reach in the sixth inning. 

Senior shortstop Thomas Miller, sophomore first baseman Cole Daniels and junior designated hitter Kellan Huang all had two hits for Saline, and senior right fielder Richard Hovde drove in two runs.

Hartland senior John Baker, a star of last season’s championship run, had two hits and drove in a run for the No. 10 Eagles (36-6-1). 

Last year’s title was the first for Hartland, and Saline is seeking the same. The Hornets have played in four championship games previously, and most recently in 2010, but have yet to end victorious.

“We’re forgetting about that,” Nelson said, “and we’re going to win a state title.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Warren DeLaSalle's Nino Puckett prepares to deliver a pitch during Thursday's first Division 1 Semifinal. (Middle) Saline's Cole Daniels slides in safely as Hartland catcher Cade Martin tries to make the tag during the second Semifinal.

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.