D4 Semis: Finalists Seize Opportunities

June 13, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Beal City baseball went viral this week, thanks to a trick play that played a small part in its Regional Final win over top-ranked Muskegon Catholic Central last weekend.

But the Aggies showed again Friday morning that they are nothing if not opportunistic – and fun to watch.

Fakery wasn’t necessary like the hidden-ball trick against MCC that has been viewed more than 300,000 times on YouTube and made national headlines with coach Brad Antcliff and two of his players interviewed on Fox News.

But Beal City had a run before it had a hit against Kalamazoo Christian, stole six bases and took advantage of five errors and getting hit by three pitches on the way to an 11-1, six-inning Division 4 Semifinal win at McLane Baseball Stadium.

“We like to stay aggressive on the base paths and in the batter’s box. We’ve been talking about that all year,” said sophomore shortstop Tucker Gross, who scored two runs and stole three bases. “It’s a lot of fun, being aggressive, not holding back. We’re just being ourselves and having fun.

“The stakes are higher, but we stay true to who we are and play our kind of ball.”

Beal City (36-3), ranked No. 2 entering the tournament, will play Saturday against No. 5 New Lothrop for its first MHSAA title since 2010. The Aggies were runners-up a year ago to Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, a semifinalist in Division 3 this weekend.

Aggies pitcher Ty Rollin did use an ounce of trickery to end Kalamazoo Christian’s opening rally, faking a pick-off attempt to third base in the first inning and wheeling toward first base before catching a runner trying to advance to second. He got that out and struck out the next batter, and it was all Beal City until the Comets scored their lone run in the sixth inning.

The Aggies scored one run in each of the first three innings before adding six in the fourth. In addition to eight hits, they executed a squeeze for one run, plus a double steal and some hit-and-run to move around the bases and earn a comfortable advantage that allowed Antcliff the luxury of pulling his ace after the fourth inning so he can use him again in the championship game.

Only three of Beal City’s runs were earned.

“We’re going to make the other team make plays. The kids played great baseball; they did exactly what we wanted them to do today,” Antcliff said. “We were going to score as quickly as possible and as many as possible, because I’ve got Ty for six (innings Saturday).

Rollin, who threw all eight innings in last season’s one-run Final loss to Liggett, allowed only two hits in four innings Thursday and also scored twice. Reliever Kurt Gross finished the game and knocked in two runs in his only at bat. Senior Ryan Tilmann had two hits and scored three runs.

Junior rightfielder Greg Harris drove in the lone run for Kalamazoo Christian (18-18).

It probably won’t make national news if Beal City finishes this run with the Division 4 title Saturday. But that certainly will be the most memorable moment for the team and community, even if the recent national hype was a fun highlight along the way.

“It’s cool, but the main thing is we’ve gotta stay focused,” Gross said. “We can’t let it get into our heads. We can’t let it become a distraction. We can talk about it a little bit, but that’s all.”

Click for the full box score.

New Lothrop 3, Maple City Glen Lake 1

Both teams playing in the second Division 4 Semifinal were in a similar history-making position – New Lothrop was playing for its first championship game berth ever, and Glen Lake was playing for its first in forever (1984).

The Hornets have had a lot of success in athletics in 2013-14, and maybe some of that savvy rubbed off on sophomore pitcher Cameron Pope.  He struck out 11 and gave up only six hits before yielding to junior reliever Grant Steinborn with one out in the seventh inning.

New Lothrop has risen from Quarterfinalist in 2012 to Semifinalist last season, and now has its firt opportunity to climb the last rung on the historical ladder.

“It’s the chemistry. It’s a small school. Everybody has classes with each other. We just all get along and we love playing with each other,” Pope said of why this year’s team became the first baseball finalist.

“It’s tradition. New Lothrop’s a winning school. It’s just what we do.” 

Sophomore rightfielder Quentin Taylor scored two of New Lothrop’s runs and drove in the third. He was the only hitter with more than one for the Hornets, who had only six hits total to Glen Lake’s 11.

The Lakers had one last opportunity in the seventh inning. With runners on first and second bases, two drives down the leftfield line fell foul, one by mere inches. One runner would've scored, and the second would've had a shot at tying the game as well. But Steinborn was able to pick up the final two outs without incident.

Senior shortstop Tristan Williams had three hits for Glen Lake and scored the lone run. Senior Thomas Waning was steady on the mound, giving up only the three hits and striking out five. 

“There’s nothing we did or didn’t do in terms of mistakes or anything like that. At the end they got two big hits when they needed to get two big hits, and we didn’t get those hits when we needed to have them,” Glen Lake coach Kris Herman said.

“We felt like we had a real opportunity to do good things here, and we’re very disappointed. We said we’d celebrate when the season was over, and we will, but now is not going to be the time because we felt an opportunity got away from us.” 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTO: (Top) Beal City’s Carson Salisbury scores as part of a six-run rally in the fourth inning Friday. (Middle) Cameron Pope unloads a pitch in earning the win for New Lothrop.

Marcellus Baseball Making History with 1st League Title, Perfect Regular-Season Record

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

May 28, 2024

MARCELLUS – Crowds have grown so big at Marcellus baseball games this spring that Don Price, the school's athletic director, had to hire extra gate help and make sure the athletic boosters had the concession stand well-stocked.

Southwest CorridorThe Wildcats have put together a memorable baseball season for this community of just more than 1,000 residents located in Cass County.

Marcellus, ranked No. 8 in Division 4, ended its regular season last week at 27-0, which included capturing first place in the Southwest 10 Conference title with a 19-0 mark.

It was the first unbeaten regular season and conference title in the history of Marcellus' baseball program.

With all of that behind the team now, coach Christian Hutson is busily preparing his ballclub for Saturday's noon District Semifinal clash against Burr Oak. Marcellus, just 13-19 a year ago, features a roster that includes four seniors, a pair of juniors, one sophomore and seven freshmen.

"We're hoping to make a run, but first we have to get through a tough District at Centreville. We have to approach it one game at a time. Any team can beat you on any given day," Hutson said.

"Our seniors have gone through lots of growing pains. They've all been asked to play a huge role for us from a young age,” Hutson added. “Now it's all come to life and they are playing real baseball, making plays and picking one another up. Everything has finally come together for these kids.”

A strong pitching staff has been one of the biggest keys to the Wildcats' success. Senior Dawsen Lehew is 5-0 with one save, a 1.04 ERA and 33 strikeouts. Nathan Mihills, another senior, is also 5-0 with one save, a 2.66 ERA and 32 strikeouts and he starts at first base when freshman Cale Hackenberg takes the mound.

"Dawsen won't be outworked. He comes in day in and day out and gives his best performance," Hutson said. "Nathan is Mr. Reliable. He's the guy who stays after practice and makes sure everything is cleaned up and that the field is raked and there's no trash left in the dugout."

Mihills also fills the role of lead-off hitter and threw a no-hitter against Bangor.

"The juniors and seniors have been through the hardship of it all, but it's helped shape us to where we are now. Our freshmen are a great addition. We're all great friends. I'm not a bit scared of who the ball is hit to because I know they'll come up with a good play,” Mihills said. “I'm a lefty and I feel pretty consistent when my curveball is on. Our coaches do a great job preparing us for game situations."

Marcellus freshman pitcher/third baseman Cale Hackenberg, left, stands with grandfather Ron Welburn, for whom the team’s field is named. Lehew agrees with his senior teammate: "Our confidence allows us to play with high energy. We've been hitting the rock very well and our pitching has been real solid. We have a new pitching coach (Ryan Coffey) who has helped me with my velocity and control. I feel like everything is flowing really well at this point."

Two freshmen have also filled big roles on the hill for Marcellus. Hackenberg has been one of the Wildcats' top aces so far with a 6-0 record, including two saves, a 1.83 ERA and 76 strikeouts. Abram Coffey is 9-0 with two saves, a 2.21 ERA and 67 strikeouts.

"On any given night, any of one of our four pitchers could be our No. 1 starter. That's what makes us so special," Hutson said.

Hackenberg has played baseball since age 9. "It took us a couple games up on varsity to settle in as freshmen, but we've done okay. I have a couple pitches that have worked well for me this season" he said.

Hackenberg is the grandson of Ron Welburn, after whom Marcellus' home field is named. Welburn, a former village president, was instrumental in the construction of the field.

"When I was on the village council our old field was on the other side of town, and that was inconvenient for the school. We got a recreational grant from the State of Michigan to build a new field. I went and spoke to the school, and they thought that would be a fantastic idea. After running into some issues with the contractor, I resigned from the council and with the help of Rock Powell and Roy Mann we worked together and finished the field," Welburn said. "It's fantastic to see these boys having some success now. It's quite an honor to be able to come out and watch them."

Marcellus' team batting average is .348, and the Wildcats have scored 326 runs – an average of 12.1 per game.

Coffey, the squad's No. 2 batter and starting shortstop when he's not pitching, is Marcellus' top hitter with a .587 average, 15 doubles, four triples, four home runs, 49 RBI, 43 stolen bases and a .712 on-base percentage. Hackenberg, the No. 3 hitter, is batting .438 with 13 doubles, 37 RBI and 25 stolen bases with an on-base percentage of .566.

Batting in the clean-up spot is senior catcher Brock Buck. Buck is hitting .339 with five doubles, one home run, 17 RBI, and he has 20 stolen bases with .565 on-base percentage.

"Brock's been our glue behind the plate the last four years," Hutson said.

Senior centerfielder Cole Thornburgh is the Wildcats' No. 5 hitter with a .390 average, including eight doubles, 28 RBI, 23 stolen bases and a .465 on-base percentage.

 The Marcellus varsity baseball team and coaching staff hold up the Southwest 10 Conference championship banner last week after a doubleheader sweep of Cassopolis. "Cole keeps us on our toes and always has something funny to say. We asked him to step up this year, and he's answered the bell," Hutson said.

Other starters playing critical roles for Marcellus are juniors Parker Adams at second base and right fielder Brock McWilliams, along with freshmen designated hitter Zade Tyszka and left fielder Matthew Lehew, Dawsen's younger brother.

"At the plate, it's not just one or two guys – it's our entire lineup. Everyone on this team has contributed whether it's with a hit, stolen base or scoring the go-ahead run," Hutson said.

Trust is another huge factor. "Defensively, we have a lot of versatile kids who we can shift around to different positions. I trust every kid we have out on the field," Hutson said.

Hutson points to the Wildcats' team speed as another key element. Marcellus has 229 stolen bases this season.

"We have great team speed, and we pick and choose our spots. Our kids are fast, and that translates to good things happening on the basepaths," Hutson said.

Good team chemistry has also played a vital role.

"This group is just a bunch of good ol’ country boys. They'll go out together fishing or spearing after a night of practice," Hutson said. “Our community has rallied around us, been very supportive and bring so much energy for us. That makes it a lot easier to play at such a high level. Every night feels like a homecoming.”

Marcellus' head coach also pointed out the contributions of assistant coaches Chauncey Hackenberg, Kyle Kahler and Tyler Coffey.

"My three coaches are absolutely amazing. Chauncey is our accountability guy who gets things done. Tyler has been great developing our pitchers. Kyle, my cousin, works with our infielders and is the level-headed one. I'm more of an outfield guy and work a lot with our hitters," Hutson said.

Hutson lists former Decatur head coach Ben Botti and Keith Schreiber as his biggest mentors. Botti is a member of the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Schreiber, previously the head coach at Glen Oaks Community College and now heading Dowagiac’s program, coached Hutson on the 2010 GOCC squad that won a Western Conference championship.

"I've had two really good mentors in Ben and Keith. They are amazing coaches with so much baseball knowledge. They both check in with me and are good resources," Hutson said.

For Hutson and his ballclub, the feeling of being undefeated so far hasn't quite sunk in.

"Baseball is a funny game,” Hutson said. “We've had a lot of tight and one-run games, but our kids continue to battle and scrap and get the job done."

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Marcellus senior pitcher Dawsen Lehew makes his move toward the plate during a recent game. (Middle) Marcellus freshman pitcher/third baseman Cale Hackenberg, left, stands with grandfather Ron Welburn, for whom the team’s field is named. (Below) The Marcellus varsity baseball team and coaching staff hold up the Southwest 10 Conference championship banner last week after a doubleheader sweep of Cassopolis. (Photos by Scott Hassinger.)