D3 Semis: Aces Lead Final Advance

June 13, 2014

Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Cody Huston was covered from neck to forearm in ice bags Friday afternoon after Decatur’s 2-1 Division 4 Semifinal win over Gladstone at McLane Stadium.

Eight innings of near-flawless pitching takes a toll – although the Raiders junior said he “could’ve gone as many as my team needed me to go.” 

It’s tough to imagine Huston giving his teammates much more.

Not only did he allow just one hit in the longest start of his career, he also drove home the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning after Gladstone elected to intentionally walk junior Matthew Botti before him. 

“I was having a little off day with the hitting. Right time to do it, I guess,” Huston said. “I thought it was just my time to step up and help my team out. They had my back the whole game. It was my turn to step up and show them what it was all about.”

Decatur (24-6), long a Division 4 power but playing in Division 3 this season, will face Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett at 5 p.m. Saturday in hopes of winning its fifth MHSAA title and second in three seasons.

Huston is part of seven-player junior class that’s played together since Little League. Five juniors started Friday, along with two sophomores and two seniors.

Junior first baseman Joby Kawaski doubled home junior second baseman Carter Smith in the fifth inning for the game’s first run. And with Huston dominating, it looked like that would be enough.

But Gladstone didn’t need a hit to knot the score in the seventh inning – just some smart base running a hard-hit grounder.

With his team down to its final two outs, senior centerfielder Christian Groleau walked, stole second base and advanced to third on an error. Senior pitcher Sam Pouliot – himself throwing a gem – hit a sharp ground ball that glanced off Huston’s glove and took just enough time rolling toward the second baseman that Groleau made it home without drawing a throw.

The score stood 1-1 when Smith singled to open the bottom of the eighth inning and moved to second on a Kawaski bunt. After a groundout came Botti’s walk – he had singled in his previous at bat – and Huston came to the plate.

“Cody’s been swinging the bat really well. (But) Matthew has been swinging the bat really well, and I probably would’ve walked him too,” said Decatur coach Ben Botti, also Matthew’s father. “I had all the confidence in Cody. I said get something on the (grass), and Carter is going to score. I just knew he was going to be able to get the job done.”

Pouliot also threw a complete game, striking out nine and giving up only one earned run. Despite the loss, it was an impressive end for a Braves program that was restarted in 2013 after being discontinued in 1960. Gladstone finished its first Semifinal run 29-5, and should be primed for another graduating only a handful of key contributors.

Next season looked like it would be the big one for the Raiders. But like Huston’s big hit, it appears his team arrived in East Lansing not a year early, but right on time.

“They’ve been playing together for a long time. We started them with travel ball when they were little, and there’s not a kid on there who we didn’t coach in Little League and coming up,” Ben Botti said. “We’ve just played from the time they were that big. Are we here a year early? I don’t know, maybe. But we might be better next year.”

Click for the full box score.

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 7, Reese 1

Matthew Gushee started this season as University Liggett’s number three starting pitcher, and didn’t throw much during the first weeks when the weather was still wintery.

But the sophomore showed enough as the season went on to move up to second in the Knights’ rotation – and plant himself on the mound for Friday’s Semifinal against Reese.

Gushee improved to 4-1 this spring by giving up only four hits and a walk in getting the reigning Division 4 champion back into an MHSAA Final – this time in Division 3.  

“He has the best stuff probably of anyone we have, with the cutter, change and curve, and he pounds the zone,” Liggett coach Dan Cimini said. “He’s got a good grip. He’s got a good mental attitude. He plans well. He prepares well. And he wants the ball in the big game.”

The Knights gave Gushee a quick cushion, scoring two runs in the first inning, one in the second and three more in the third. Senior outfielders Ian Clark and Adam Fiema both had two hits, with Clark scoring twice and Fiema driving in two runs. Senior first baseman Anthony Simon also scored twice and drove in a run.

Reese senior Cody Peyok allowed only one earned run after taking the mound in relief during the third inning – but by then the damage was done.

This wasn’t Gushee’s first stunning performance. He also got the win in the Regional Final against top-ranked Madison Heights Bishop Foley, the three-time reigning Division 3 champ.

“He’s been a horse for us,” Cimini said, “and I’m glad we have him.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Decatur players celebrate after Carter Smith scores the winning run in their Semifinal. (Middle) Matthew Gushee fires a pitch while throwing a four-hitter for Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.

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.)