D3 Finalists End Long Waits to Return

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 12, 2015

EAST LANSING – Except for a couple of hiccups, Jackson Lumen Christi coach Phil Clifford’s game plan could hardly have worked better Friday.

And now Clifford has his rotation all set for the MHSAA Final.

Pitching on two day’s rest, Zach Mehelich went four innings and gave up two runs as Lumen Christi defeated Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker 7-3 in a Division 3 Semifinal at McLane Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

Chris Cooper’s triple produced the game’s first run, and he scored on Connor Mogle’s single to give the Titans a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. Cooper’s drive to right fooled the outfielder as he came in a few steps before retreating, but the ball went over his head.

“I just go up there and swing the bat,” Cooper said. “I go up there to hit, not take pitches.

“I saw (the outfielder) charge it a little bit. I just kept on running, hoping I wouldn’t catch Joe (Mehelich).”

Lumen Christi (23-16), winners of seven straight, will play Buchanan (24-7) for the title at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Titans added another run in the third inning and broke open the game with a four-run fourth.

“Zach threw 130 pitches and went 10 innings on Tuesday,” Clifford said. “We wanted to get some innings out of him today. We wanted four, and we got four.”

Saturday’s will be the Titans’ second MHSAA Final appearance. They won the 1978 Class B title with a 10-6 victory over Spring Lake.

Clifford’s plan is to use Mehelich, 10-2 now after earning the victory, in relief if needed. Clifford might go with Josh Iocca, who threw the final three innings to get the save Friday, or go with Josh Fleming, who started at catcher.

“It’s the Final,” Clifford said. “Anyone who can pitch is available.”

Normally a strong team defensively, Lumen Christi committed three errors. The first two didn’t play into the scoring, but the third one did.

Trailing 3-0, the Lakers (22-11) broke through with a run on Austin McCabe’s RBI double. McCabe then scored on an infield error to make it 3-2 going into the bottom of the fourth.

Lumen Christi’s defense saved at least one run during the previous inning. With one out, Jacob Periso reached base on an infield error and went to third on Brady Post’s single. Dustin Kady then hit a fly to fairly deep right field, where Zach Spicer made the catch and threw one hop to Fleming, who put the tag on Periso to end the inning.

“I thought I’d be late on the bounce,” Spicer said. “It was pretty cool. It was great for our confidence.”

Despite the loss, this was the Lakers’ best season. They had never won a Regional before this spring.

Laker coach Adam Grybauskas said Spicer’s throw was perhaps the key play of the game.

“The throw from the outfield was a perfect throw,” Grybauskas said. “A foot here or a foot there and he’s safe.”

Click for the box score.

Buchanan 6, Gladstone 4

Buchanan trailed Gladstone 3-0 after two innings before Kyle Leazenby relieved Jarrett Thomas and held the Braves to a run on five hits.

The Bucks haven’t been to a Final since 1985, when they defeated Grandville Calvin Christian, 3-2, for the Class C title. Buchanan also lost in the 1981 and 1982 Class C Finals. 

Buchanan scored two in the third inning Friday and took its first lead, 5-4, in the bottom of the fifth scoring three runs, two unearned.

Thomas had the big hit in the inning, a two-run double that tied the game at 4-4. Thomas stole second and came home on Chad Adkerson’s sacrifice fly.

“I never found myself on the mound,” Thomas said. “I had to keep focusing. I had to do something else to help the team. With two men on, I had to do the job.”

Thomas moved to shortstop after being relieved. He threw 145 pitches during Saturday’s Regional and seemed tired. He walked five and threw 63 pitches Friday.

Leazenby, a sophomore, set the side down in order in the third and seventh innings, and did not walk a batter. 

He had worked four innings in Tuesday’s 7-4 Quarterfinal victory over Lansing Catholic.

“I feel I had a lot more left after Tuesday,” Leazenby said. “I was very pumped up. It’s a lot different than Tuesday.” 

Jake Peterson went the distance on the mound for Gladstone (28-10). He also had three hits and two RBI.

Gladstone is expected to field another fine team next season as coach Don Lauscher had just two seniors and two juniors this spring.

Click for the box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) A Lumen Christi hitter turns on a pitch during Friday’s Division 3 Semifinal. (Middle) Buchanan's Kyle Leazenby prepares to fire during his relief appearance Friday.

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.)