First-Time Finalists Ride Pitching Power

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 12, 2015

EAST LANSING – The winning pitchers in the Division 4 Semifinals went all seven innings and combined to give up just three hits on Friday at McLane Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

A stoic Devin Comes gave up a single to the first batter, and that was all as the sophomore struck out six and walked one in leading Muskegon Catholic Central to a 4-1 victory over first-time semifinalist Ubly.

MCC (38-1-1) will play Centreville (29-1) for the title Saturday at 5 p.m. Both teams are in the Final for the first time.

Michael Kool tossed a two-hitter and struck out 10 as Centreville defeated Rudyard 2-1 in the other Semifinal.

Comes pitched sparingly as a freshman, but knew his role would increase this season. He’s 10-1 and one of a handful of quality pitchers on coach Steve Schuitema’s staff.

“We had talked,” Schuitema said. “If he threw strikes, we’d be OK. We could have played better defense. Zach Huston made some real good plays at second.

“(Comes) is so unflappable. He doesn’t get that from me. I’m a nervous wreck.”

MCC committed four errors, and even those mistakes couldn’t rattle Comes. Ubly scored its run in the fourth inning on a walk, an error and a ground out by Evan Block.

By that time, MCC had built a 4-0 lead, scoring twice in the first inning and two more runs in the third.

“That 2-0 lead relieves a lot of stress,” Comes said. “I still have to do my job.

“I’ve never been in this situation before. We have a bunch of guys who can throw. I just did my normal routine (to prepare). I just try to stay calm and throw first-pitch strikes.”

Nichols Holt’s two-run single gave the Crusaders a 2-0 lead in the first. Jacob Holt had an RBI ground out in the third inning and the fourth run scored on an error.

Zachary Winzer had three of MCC seven hits. Anthony Woodard had two hits and a walk.

Jeffrey Wright pitched well for Ubly (22-8), but didn’t receive the run support.

“Every coach dreams of playing in a championship game,” Ubly coach Jim Becker said. “We were excited, but we’re also down we weren’t able to get there. We overachieved. I expected us to be .500. All along all we wanted was to win a district.”

Click for the box score.

Centreville 2, Rudyard 1

Kool, a junior right-hander, pitched a no-hitter in the Quarterfinal on Tuesday, 3-0 victory over Climax-Scotts. He retired the first 13 batters on Friday before Owen Mills singled.

Kool struck out 10 and walked two, both in the sixth inning, when Rudyard touched him for a run.

Despite his impressive performance, Kool remained humble.

“I just play baseball,” he said. “It’s not me. It’s the team. I felt good. This is the highlight of my career.

“We’re still making history for Centreville. We’re in the state final.”

Centreville took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as Kool scored on a throwing error. Nick Weber scored what turned out to be the winning run when Jalen Brown singled him home with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Rudyard (30-5) set a school record for victories in a season and was making its third MHSAA Semifinal appearance.

The Bulldogs scored in the top of the sixth inning after Kool walked the first two batters. A sacrifice bunt moved both up, and James Rosebrock singled home Cody Coffey. But Kool struck out the last two batters and retired the side in order in the seventh.

When asked if he thought about removing his ace during the tense sixth, coach Mike Webster said, “I went with my instincts and left him in.”

Webster will turn 27 on Saturday, and he said, “The kids gave me the best birthday of my life.”

Travis Myers went the distance and took the loss for Rudyard. This was coach Ron VanSloten’s last game, as he will retire after 22 seasons to spend more time with his family. He built a career record of 444-186-4. 

“We had a couple of key at bats today,” he said. “(Kool) is a good dude. Except for that one inning, he comes right at you.”

Click for the box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Devin Comes prepares to deliver a pitch during Friday’s Division 4 Semifinal win. (Middle) A Centreville player crosses the plate for one of his team’s two runs.

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)