Finals Preview: Making the Numbers Add Up

June 13, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A few numbers are worth noting heading into MHSAA Baseball Finals weekend at Battle Creek's Bailey Park.

Seven of the 16 teams taking the field will be playing for their first championships. Not one of the Division 2 Semifinalists has a top-10 number attached to it; all four contenders entered the postseason unranked. 

But there are plenty of coaches this weekend who know about winning; eight have led teams to at least 200 wins, and two coaches with at least 500 victories are attempting to guide their clubs to first MHSAA titles.

Below is this weekend's schedule, followed by a look at each team that will be playing.

Semifinals - Friday

Division 1
Bay City Western (40-2) vs. Sterling Heights Stevenson (28-8) - CO Brown - 11 a.m.
Birmingham Brother Rice (31-8-1) vs. Howell (33-7) - Nichols Field - 10 a.m.

Division 2
Grand Rapids Christian (17-15) vs. Remus Chippewa Hills (27-7) - Nichols Field - 1 p.m.
Richmond (33-4) vs. Milan (26-12) - Morrison Field - Noon

Division 3
Grandville Calvin Christian (23-3) vs. Whittemore-Prescott (24-5) - Morrison Field - 3 p.m.
Madison Heights Bishop Foley (33-2-1) vs. Bridgman (26-5-1) - CO Brown - 2 p.m.

Division 4
Beal City (34-2) vs. Maple City Glen Lake (28-7) - CO Brown - 5 p.m.
New Lothrop (25-5) vs. Grosse Pte. Woods U. Liggett (29-4) - Nichols Field - 4 p.m.

Finals - Saturday

Division 1: 9:30 a.m.
Division 2: 12:30 p.m.
Division 3: 3:30 p.m.
Division 4: 6:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $7 per round or $15 for an all-tournament ticket that includes admission to baseball games. Radio broadcasts of all Semifinals can be heard online at All Finals will be streamed live online at, with radio broadcasts again available on the MHSAA Network website.

All statistics below are through at least the regular season, with most through teams' Regionals or Quarterfinals. (Click for links to brackets and scores.)

Division 1

Record/rank: 40-2, No. 1
Coach: Tim McDonald, 21st season (562-198-7)
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League North
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Connor Foley, sr. P/3B (7-0, 1.73 ERA pitching, .496, 57 R, 19 SB); Grant Miller, sr. 2B (.478, 52 R, 32 RBI); Grant Bridgewater, sr. C/3B (.416, 39 R, 38 RBI), Brett Adcock, sr. P/1B (11-0, 0.54 ERA, 119 K pitching, .361).
Outlook: The Warriors are making their third Semifinals appearance in eight seasons, this time with a lineup featuring seven seniors. Bay City Western has won 31 straight, including victories over No. 2 Brighton, No. 5 Howell and sweeps of Division 2 No. 1 Bay City John Glenn, No. 4 Mount Pleasant and No. 6 Bullock Creek. Seniors Briton Ott (7-0) and Grant Rosenbrock (6-1) also have ERAs under 1.50, and junior shortstop Seth Freed provides another big bat hitting .443.   

Record/rank: 31-8-1, No. 6
Coach: Bob Riker, 16th season (393-156)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic High School League Central
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2008), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Dalton Greyerbiehl, sr. CF/P; Nick Plummer, soph. LF; Matt Ruppenthal, jr. IF/P; Randy Righter, jr. 1B/P; Sammy Stevens, jr. C. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: This is Brother Rice’s first trip to Bailey Park since its most recent championship run, but the Warriors are used to seeing tough competition playing in one of the state’s most competitive leagues. Brother Rice also owns a split against No. 5 Howell and a sweep of Division 3 No. 1 Madison Heights Bishop Foley, and beat No. 11 Lake Orion in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal.

Record/rank: 33-7, No. 5
Co-coaches: Jason Ladd and Mike Weatherly, second seasons (62-17)
League finish: Second in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Tyler Bradner, sr. P/CF (.416, 28 R, 51 RBI); Cody Wiggins, sr. LF (.362, 32 R, 28 RBI); Darren Ford, jr. RF/P (.404, 32 R, 23 RBI).
Outlook: Howell is back in the Semifinals for the second straight year, and also the second time ever. And the Highlanders should be prepared after running through a loaded schedule; they went 2-1 against No. 2 Brighton and No. 4 Sterling Heights Stevenson, fell to No. 1 Bay City Western but beat reigning Division 4 champion Decatur, and then defeated No. 8 Temperance Bedford in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal.

Record/rank: 28-8, No. 4
Coach: Joe Emanuele, 16th season (351-182)
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2005.
Players to watch: Zack McGuire, jr. P/OF (5-0, 1.22 ERA pitching, .444, 16 2B, 42 RBI); Brandon Hughes, jr. OF/P (.404, 39 R, 21 SB); Dean Emanuele, jr. 2B (.388, 14 SB, 26 R), Bobby Griffin, sr. C (.370, 12 2B, 20 RBI).
Outlook: After missing last season, Stevenson is back in the Semifinals for the second time in three years with a lineup featuring as many seniors (three) as sophomores. Stevenson owns a recent win over No. 5 Howell after two losses earlier, and beat No. 7 Macomb Dakota three times including in the Regional. Senior Johno Rodriguez (7-1) and junior Joe Wolf (6-2) combine with McGuire for an accomplished pitching staff.  

Division 2

Record/rank: 17-15, unranked
Coach: Brent Gates, sixth season (153-59)
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2012, runner-up 2011 and 2005.
Players to watch: Alex VandeVusse, sr. 1B/P (.392, 22 R, 3-3 pitching); Joel Schipper, sr. SS (.384, 20 R, 19 RBI); Tyler Sigler, jr. OF (.356, 23 R, 17 SB); Austin Batka, jr. P/1B (4-5, 1.63 ERA, 88 K pitching).
Outlook: VandeVusse and Schipper were key cogs in last season’s championship team and have the Eagles back on an unexpected run after finishing the regular season 12-15. The Eagles did beat No. 2 Comstock Park 10-3 in the Regional Semifinal and also beat No. 4 Mount Pleasant just before the beginning of Districts.

Record/rank: 26-12, unranked
Coach: Adam Gilles, 12th season (266-122-3)
League finish: Third in Huron League
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Kyle Schrader, jr. P/IF; Thomas Lindeman, soph. P/SS. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Milan has won 10 straight and is back at Bailey Park for the first time since 2009. This postseason run has included three shutouts – including one against No. 10 New Boston Huron – as the Big Reds have beaten those six teams by a combined score of 18-5.

Record/rank: 27-7, unranked
Coach: Ben Wright, seventh season (182-64)
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association
Championship history: Class B champion 1983.
Players to watch: Jake Tarbell, sr. C/P (10-2, 2.07 ERA, 94 K pitching, .505, 31 R, 17 2B, 40 RBI); Devin Esch, sr. CF (.423, 26 R, 12 SB); Hunter Conley, soph. 2B (.403, 38 R, 27 SB); Ty Schafer, sr. SS/P (8-2, 2.62 ERA, 54 K pitching, .369, 25 R, 23 RBI.)
Outlook: Chippewa Hills has won six straight league, three straight District and two straight Regional championships. The Warriors were ranked No. 10 in Division 2 early this season, and have beaten two straight ranked opponents: No. 8 Cheboygan in the Regional Final and No. 4 Mount Pleasant in the Quarterfinal.

Record/rank: 33-4, unranked
Coach: Scott Evans, second season (58-16)
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Evan Kratt, soph. C/P (3-0, 1.58 ERA pitching, .478, 36 R, 38 RBI, 13 2B); Austin Harvey, jr. 3B (.439, 32 R, 16 SB); Ryan Boyd, jr. SS/P (2-0, 0.49 ERA pitching, .421, 39 R, 18 SB); Mitchell Ward, sr. P/1B (5-0, 1.54 ERA pitching, .408, 27 R, 26 RBI).  
Outlook: Richmond is riding a 17-game winning streak that has included a 6-1 win over No. 3 St. Clair in the Regional Semifinal. The Blue Devils have one of the deepest pitching staffs in Battle Creek this weekend, with seven throwers having won at least one game this season and the total staff ERA at 1.75. Junior Zach Leach and sophomore Dillon McInerney both have a team-high six wins on the mound.

Division 3

Record/rank: 26-5-1, No. 7
Coach: Justin Hahaj, first season (26-5-1)
League finish: First in Lakeland Conference
Championship history: Class D champion 1987, two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Brock Belanger, sr. 1B (.430, 27 R, 37 RBI); Matt Hendricks, jr. SS (.337, 37 R, 22 SB); Tyler Gnodtke, jr. P/OF (7-1, 1.86 ERA pitching); Brady Wasko, sr. P/2B (9-1, 0.49 ERA, 74 K pitching, .328, 26 R).
Outlook: Bridgman hopes to take the next step after finishing runner-up in 2011. Gnodtke made a brief appearance in that Final and is back as one of the best of a strong pitching staff. Bridgman has won its five postseason games by a combined score of 34-4, with a 5-2 win over No. 6 Homer in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal.

Record/rank: 23-3, unranked
Coach: Andrew Bishop, fourth season (90-27)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1996), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Nate VanRyn (.377, 25 R, 21 RBI); Jamie Bristol (6-1, 1.37 ERA pitching, .370); Cole Boender (5-0, 0.29 ERA pitching, .348); Josh DeYoung (9-0, 0.60 ERA, 82 K pitching, .333, 23 R, 22 RBI).
Outlook: Calvin Christian has won four league and three District titles under Bishop, and now is back in Battle Creek for the first time since 2002. The Squires eliminated No. 2 Lansing Catholic in the Regional and have won 17 of their last 18 games. Only three starters graduate, meaning Calvin Christian could be building for a run in 2014 as well.

Record/rank: 33-2-1, No. 1
Coach: Buster Sunde, fifth season (164-25-1)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic High School League AA
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2012 and 2011, Class B runner-up 1990.
Players to watch: Michael Murley, jr. CF/P; Chad Gravlin, sr. 1B/P; Garrett Schilling, jr. P/SS; Nathaniel Grys, soph. LF. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Despite graduating an Major League draft pick in catcher Brett Sunde, Bishop Foley hasn’t missed a beat – even with only two seniors on this season’s team. Bishop Foley earned impressive wins against bigger schools including Detroit Catholic Central and Brother Rice and didn’t give up a run in the District tournament.

Record/rank: 24-5, unranked
Coach: Edward Mervyn, 34th season (566-385)
League finish: Second in Huron Shores Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Tyler Janish, sr. P (8-1, 0.86 ERA, 99 K pitching, .506, 61 R, 4 HR, 64 SB); Jens Gillings, jr. C (.424, 27 R, 31 RBI, 24 SB); Jordan Runyon, sr. 1B (.420, 34 RBI); Mike Arndt, soph. SS (.369, 39 R, 32 RBI, 41 SB).
Outlook: This is Whittemore-Prescott’s longest run ever and first trip to Bailey Park – and could be just the start of a two-year run with only three seniors in the lineup. The Cardinals have a supply of offense and scored at least 10 runs in 11 games this spring – with seven regulars stealing at least 10 bases and six driving in at least 20 runs. Junior Ivan Lauria joins Janish with an 8-1 pitching record.

Division 4

Record/rank: 34-2, No. 3
Coaches: Brad Antcliff, seventh season (225-39-3)
League finish: First in Highland Conference
Championship history: Three MHSAA championships (most recent 2010).
Players to watch: Ryan Marshall, sr. SS/P (8-1, 1.50 ERA pitching; .383, 34 R, 32 RBI, 23 SB); Ty Rollin, jr. SS/P (9-1, 1.22 ERA pitching, .389, 48 R, 24 SB); Joe Rau, sr. LF (.369, 35 R, 21 RBI); Chase Rollin, fr. RF (.473).
Outlook: Beal City is in the Semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons and seeking its third championship after winning back-to-back in 2009 and 2010. The slate has been impressive this spring; the Aggies own wins over Division 2 Semifinalist Remus Chippewa Hills and Division 4 No. 5 Muskegon Catholic Central and No. 7 Decatur over the last eight games. The losses came to No. 1 University Liggett and Division 2 No. 6 Bullock Creek.

Record/rank: 29-4, No. 1
Coach: Dan Cimini, 10th season (275-55)
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2011), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Nathan Gaggin, sr. C/P (.507, 27 R, 6 HR, 50 RBI); Nicholas Azar, soph. SS (.416, 31 R, 6 HR, 39 RBI); Connor Fannon, sr. P/1B (10-1, 2.50 ERA, 79 K pitching, .409, 28 R, 43 RBI); Mark Evan Auk, sr. OF/P (.402, 36 R, 24 RBI).
Outlook: University Liggett was the runner-up last season and is playing for its third straight championship game appearance. The Knights are loaded with star power; Fannon was an all-stater as a sophomore and Gaggin, Azar and Auk were all-staters last season. Two of the last three postseason wins came against No. 10 Concord and No. 6 Royal Oak Shrine, and University Liggett also owns wins against No. 3 Beal City and Division 1 No. 6 Brother Rice.

Record/rank: 28-7, No. 12
Coach: Kris Herman, 10th season (202-157-4)
League finish: Fourth in Northwest Conference
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1984.
Players to watch: Austin Odziana, soph. 1B/P (.459, 26 R, 12 2B, 23 RBI, 4-1 pitching); Thomas Waning, jr. 2B/P (8-4, 1.49 ERA, 110 K pitching, .424, 11 2B, 39 R, 33 RBI, 24 SB); Travis Moore, fr. OF/P (.422, 25 R, 34 RBI); Trevor Apsey, jr. C (.411, 40 R, 33 RBI, 20 SB),
Outlook: Glen Lake lost three of its final four regular-season games, but caught fire in the playoffs to advance to the Semifinals for the first time since 2001. The Lakers beat Suttons Bay after splitting right before the start of the postseason and beat No. 11 Frankfort in the Regional Final after being swept earlier this spring. Freshman Zach Cooper starts in right field and also is 7-1 pitching.  

Record/rank: 25-5, unranked
Coach: Keith Villano, third season (80-18-2)
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Blue
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Taylor Quentin, fr. OF (.541, 15 2B, 46 RBI); Grant Steinborn, soph. 1B/P (9-0, 1.63 ERA pitching, .408, 33 RBI); Tyler Moore, sr. 2B/P (.400, 31 R); Kyle Chappelle, jr. 3B/P (.318, 22 RBI, 41 R).
Outlook: New Lothrop have built on last season’s Quarterfinal berth by returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 1998. The Hornets have outscored their postseason opponents by a combined 40-11. And the run is even more impressive considering the roster has more underclassmen (seven) than upperclassmen (six). Centerfielder Mitch Perizzolo hits .346 in joining with Moore as the team’s lone seniors.

PHOTO: Bay City Western senior Briton Ott fires a pitch during Tuesday's Division 1 Quarterfinal win over Rockford. (Click to see more at

Kingsley Standouts Big Hits on Diamond, as Friends to 4th-Hour Classmates

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 19, 2024

When Eli Graves or Gavyn Merchant takes a swing this spring for Kingsley, a special group of friends are not worried how they’ll connect with the ball.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat group of friends and classmates — students in Joel Guy’s fourth-hour special education class — feel like the two senior standout athletes already hit a home run at school that day. It might even feel like a grand slam from Graves or perhaps a hole-in-one for Merchant.

And the Kingsley baseball and golf coaches feel similarly – and sentiment that may extend through the entire Kingsley community.

Merchant and Graves are playing their final baseball seasons with Stags. Merchant is dual-sporting, adding golf to his incredible athletic career.

Together, they led the Stags to Division 6 football championship in the fall despite battling through extensive injuries. Graves, the star running back, and Merchant, the outstanding quarterback, then fought through long, hard rehabilitations to get back and lead the Stags on the hardcourt and wrestling mats this winter.  

But before stepping up to the plate or the tee to compete for Kingsley on any given day this spring, the pair spend time in Guy’s class and share lunch with the Kingsley cognitively impaired (CI) students.

“You can’t say enough good things about these young men,” said Guy, who also is in his fourth year as the Kingsley golf coach. “I get teary-eyed talking about it – they just kind of took a hold of some of my students making contact at lunch and in the hallway.”

That contact began midway the football season. Graves and Merchant were joined by fellow golfer Ty Morgan and football teammate Skyler Workman.

Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. A few more senior athletes have been a part of the adoption of Guy’s students intermittently as well. But Guy’s students can count on seeing Graves, Merchant, Morgan and Workman in the classroom each and every day and then at lunch. The time was made possible, Guy notes, because the athletes are ahead in their own academic pursuits or participants in the school’s Teacher Academy program.

How those seniors are contributing is rare for accomplished athletes in a high school setting, Guy is happy to point out.

“Gavin and Eli are state champions in football,” said Guy. “They are the stars of their winter sports basketball and wrestling, and you you think that being seniors with those kinds of credentials at lunch they would sit in a table with all their buddies and talk about their accomplishments.

“They sit with my special education students,” Guy continued. “They make my students feel like they’re the ‘in’ crowd, and I am so proud of them.”

Bruce Graves, father of Eli and coach of the Stags’ baseball team, recalls learning from Guy what that group of seniors was doing with their fourth hour. He wasn’t really surprised to hear from someone else what his senior leaders were doing.

“They wouldn’t tell anybody they were doing it,” the 22-year veteran coach said. “They don’t do it for a pat on the back – they just do it because they like being good guys.”

There are various reports of exactly how the athletes started getting involved with the special education students. But everyone in the school located 15 miles south of Traverse City seems happy they did.

Eli Graves, one of the Stags’ five pitchers, roams center field when he’s not on the mound. He is 1-0 as the Stags are off to a 9-0 start following a conference sweep of Kalkaska, 3-0, 15-0, on Thursday. The right-hander is slated to pitch this weekend and has hopes of the Stags finishing the year with a conference baseball title and a deep postseason run.

Graves and Merchant have raised money all year to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their classmates in Guy’s room. They’ve become particularly close to a couple of his students.

“They don’t really see us as helpers or anything like that — they see us more as friends,” said Graves, now playing his third year on the varsity baseball squad.  “We go into the special ed room, and basically just help the students with whatever work they are doing.”

Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener.After recovering from football injuries, Graves averaged more than 15 points per game this basketball season and earned all-conference. Merchant also recovered from postseason surgeries and got back on the mat to place fourth at 132 pounds in Division 3 and became an all-state wrestler for the fourth time.  

The pair’s in-season football injuries were not known to many. They wanted to compete for the state title and tend to the injuries later. Graves rushed for almost 2,000 yards, tying and breaking some of his brother Owen’s school records along the way. He also had 20 tackles, two interceptions and four touchdowns on defense during the 2023 campaign.

Graves sprained a shoulder joint during the Semifinal win over Reed City but a week later carried the ball 33 times and ran for 210 yards in the title game. He had four touchdowns that day in the Stags' 38-24 victory over Almont.

Merchant has had various injuries over the course of his career, undergoing wrist surgery as a sophomore for a carpal tunnel injury and having floating cartilage taken out of a knee following his junior wrestling season.

But what he endured on the way to Ford Field was the topper as he endured two torn ligaments in his knee, a fractured leg, a torn meniscus — and, later on — a pair of broken ribs sustained late in the championship game.

“When you’re in the game, it’s all about adrenaline,” said Merchant, who is facing another surgery in May but shot a 95 to lead Kingsley in its first tournament of the season Thursday at the Frostbite Open in Manton. “You don’t even think about the injury until you get off the field, and that’s when you get ice bags and fight it off.”

They have been close friends since elementary school and credit the Kingsley coaching, teaching and counseling staffs with preparing them for life after graduation.

Graves and Merchant call football their favorite sport. Graves hopes to also play football at the college level, and Merchant expects to continue on the wrestling mat.

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) Eli Graves, left, and Gavyn Merchant are among standouts for Kingsley’s baseball team again this spring. (Middle) Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. (Below) Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener. (Baseball photos by Karen Middleton.)