Cowboys hoping to ride into Battle Creek

May 18, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

At least once a week, former longtime Detroit Western International baseball coach Ziggy Gonzalez stops in to Cowboys practice to offer a taste of the program’s history.

“Big Dad” coached the 1972 team that fell 3-1 in the Class A Final and the 1973 team that advanced to the Semis. Among his former players was the late Todd Cruz, who earned a World Series ring as part of the 1983 Baltimore Orioles.

“I tell these guys, we don’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been,” current coach Juan Carlos Sanchez said.

Detroit Western is attempting to go somewhere a Detroit Public School league team hasn’t been in a while – and hoping to accomplish a feat no PSL school has attained before.

The Cowboys, recipients of this week’s Second Half team High 5, are 22-4 heading into this afternoon’s PSL Semifinal matchup against Detroit Cass Tech. Western hasn’t lost a league game in at least five seasons – but took that success to the next level last season when it came within an out of advancing to the MHSAA Division 1 Semifinals at Battle Creek’s Bailey Park.

Western led Temperance Bedford 2-0 in their Quarterfinal before falling 3-2 and ending the season 18-13 overall. Remembering that day, the Cowboys break huddles now with “3-2, Finish!”

“It’s been their focus and drive all year,” Sanchez said. “They’ve been determined to get back, and once I explained the magnitude of making history like that (as potentially the first champion from the PSL) … that’s something they want to be a part of.”

And the Cowboys have a number of reasons to anticipate this final month of the season.

Of 16 players, 14 were on the team during last season’s run. They are led by a strong core which will be back in 2013 as well – juniors Hector Gutierrez Jr. and Jose Ramon Morales, and sophomore Luis Chapa, the team’s top three pitchers and 2-3-4 hitters in the lineup. Gutierrez and Morales man the middle of the infield for the second straight season.

Their only losses this season were to No. 10 Macomb Dakota during spring break and then to top-ranked Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. Sanchez purposely has tried to fill the schedule with strong competition, and the Cowboys should get a look at more top teams at Saturday’s Warren Mott Invitational.

They put in the work. Sanchez said he got texts all offseason from players asking for the key to the school’s batting cage. Seniors and juniors have led conditioning on off-days.

And they’ve got tradition and support. While the state rankings are filled with teams from suburbs and small towns, those from the state’s biggest cities frequently struggle. But southwest Detroit is a baseball community. There’s a thriving men’s league, and Sanchez – who grew up there, attended Detroit Catholic Central and played baseball at the University of Detroit – said it’s common to find pick-up games on Saturdays and Sundays.

"(Baseball) is something bred in us,” he said. “It’s passed down from generations, not just from dads but moms as well. It gets fed to them every day.”

Before last season, the Cowboys had come close to breaking through to the season’s final week during Sanchez' decade coaching in the program – and last season’s run sent the players’ confidence soaring.

Next month, they hope to take another championship step. 

“We set the expectations high early,” he said. “We’re not just content to be a good city team. We want to win statewide.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Sophomore Tratez Henton stands in against a Detroit Martin Luther King pitcher this season. (Middle) Coaches speak to the team after its win over King. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.)

Northville, Brother Rice Set Up Power-Packed Finale with Powerful Swings

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

June 13, 2024

EAST LANSING — For the first three years of his varsity career at Northville, Joey Broughton was one of the best two-way baseball forces in the state, excelling both on the mound and at the plate.

Unfortunately this year, Broughton has simply been reduced to a one-way force. 

An all-state pitcher the last couple of years who has signed with Pittsburgh, Broughton hasn’t pitched this season due to a flexor pronator strain in his arm, so he has focused on hitting more than he ever has  and possibly will again — in his baseball career.

“I’ve never considered myself to be an amazing hitter,” Broughton said. “But to come out here and work my tail off when I can’t pitch means a ton. Just getting pitches I love and smacking them.”

Broughton certainly did that better than anyone in the first Division 1 Semifinal on Thursday, collecting two hits and four RBI to lead Northville to a 9-2 win over Bay City Western at McLane Stadium. 

The biggest blow came with two outs in the fourth inning. 

With the score tied and two outs, senior and No. 7 hitter Luke Dieringer gave the Mustangs a 3-2 lead with an RBI single that scored Connor Vissotski, who reached on a two-base throwing error. 

Northville then got hits from its No. 8 and 9 hitters — junior Carson Eaton and pinch-hitter Justin Brown, respectively — to load the bases for senior Dante Nori.

On the first pitch, Nori was hit to force in a run and make it 4-2. That set the stage for Broughton, who hit a bases-clearing double just over the right fielder’s head to make it 7-2. 

In the sixth inning, Broughton and senior Carter Jurcisin each added an RBI single to make it 9-2 Mustangs. Overall, Northville scored eight runs in the game with two outs.

“We practice that every single practice,” said Northville head coach Dan Cimini, who is in his first year with the program after building a powerhouse at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. “We load the bases, put two outs and see what these guys can do. They practice it probably more than anybody. It’s a strength, and it has to be a strength in these playoff games.”

Bay City Western (35-7-1) made it back to the Semifinals for the first time since winning the second of back-to-back championships in 2014. 

“There is a lot of legacy in the teams in front of them, but they certainly left their legacy,” Western head coach Tim McDonald said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys in that dugout. I think every practice is going to pay off, and the experience (of getting here).”

Northville opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning when senior Vissotski walked, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, took third on a groundout and then scored on a passed ball to make it 1-0.

Western responded in the third, going up 2-1 on a pair of two-out extra-base hits. First, junior Mikey Deluca laced an RBI double to the gap in right center, and then senior Bryce Neitzel hit an RBI double down the left-field line. 

Northville answered in the third inning, tying the game on a titanic home run to right by Nori. The ball went through the trees beyond the right-field fence and likely landed in the Red Cedar River. 

Northville senior Caden Besco came on in relief in the fourth inning with runners on first and third base, two outs and the game tied 2-2. He ended Western’s threat with a strikeout.

Besco threw just 41 pitches in 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, so he will be available for Saturday’s title game.

Click for the full box score.

Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 5, Grosse Pointe North 2

Brother Rice had all it needed against Grosse Pointe North after just three batters. 

The Warriors wasted no time jumping on North senior ace Brennan Hill, putting the first two men on in the bottom of the first inning and then taking a 3-0 lead on a towering home run to left by senior Owen Turner. 

That proved to be the difference and propelled the Brother Rice (44-1) to its first state title game since 2013. 

Owen Turner sends a pitch over the leftfield fence in Brother Rice’s victory.“I have not faced him, but I’ve caught him,” Turner said of facing Hill. “He played on my summer team. I was his catcher all summer, so I kind of knew what he throws and what his velocity was.”

Those runs were all Brother Rice’s pitching tandem of junior Blake Ilitch and senior Chase Van Ameyde needed. The two combined to limit the Norsemen to one hit and no earned runs. 

Grosse Pointe North loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth inning and scored two runs on an error to cut the Brother Rice lead to 3-2. But the Warriors answered in the bottom of the fourth, taking a 4-2 lead on an RBI double with two outs to the gap in left-center by junior Cole Van Ameyde. 

GPN put runners on first and second with one out in the fifth inning, but Chase Van Ameyde relieved Ilitch and got out of the jam with two strikeouts. Van Ameyde didn’t allow a hit in 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. 

Brother Rice got an insurance run in the seventh inning on a two-out single to left by Cole Van Ameyde that made it 5-2. 

The Warriors will now try and win their first title since 2008.

“I’ve got 10 seniors, and seven have played for four straight years,” Brother Rice head coach Bob Riker said. “They kind of know what’s expected and when they were freshman, they came here and lost in the final four. I’m not going to say they were using that as fuel or anything like that, but they’ve really matured over the last four years.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Northville celebrates during its Semifinal win over Bay City Western on Thursday. (Middle) Owen Turner sends a pitch over the leftfield fence in Brother Rice’s victory.