Flashback 1981: 3 Days Finally Yields 4 Baseball Champions
By Ron Pesch
April 30, 2021
The nursery rhyme “Rain, Rain Go Away” has often served as unofficial anthem for the MHSAA’s baseball tournament, first held in the spring of 1971.
A decade after the start, downpours again turned a planned Saturday-sprint-to-the-finish into a three-day-marathon that finally wrapped up on Tuesday, June 16, 1981.
In the end, the 10th MHSAA Boys Baseball Tournament did feature a few ‘firsts.’ The finish of the season marked the first year that championship games for each of the Association’s four classes were scheduled for play at a single site. Previous championship action saw each class play its title game in a different city across the state.
Alumni Field at Central Michigan University served as host. Home of the Chippewas, the site served as an impressive backdrop, as the stadium had been recently renovated thanks to fundraising work by Mount Pleasant insurance businessman Jack Weisenburger, who had played five years of professional baseball in the Boston Braves organization, and nationally-known beloved sportscaster Dick Enberg, a CMU alumnus.
Roger Horrie’s 10th-inning two-out hit up the alley in left center scored freshman pinch runner Deron White from third base, giving Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher a 7-6 walk-off victory over Flint Carman.
The smash, coming off Jeff Hamilton’s two-ball, two-strike pitch, was welcome relief to Lancers coach Jim Bresciami, whose team had stranded 17 runners on base prior to the game winner. Gallagher had loaded the bases in both the seventh and ninth innings, but was unable to score.
“Roger is our best bunter,” Bresciami told Detroit Free Press sportswriter Mick McCabe, “but we already had a man thrown out at the plate on a bunt so we just let him swing away, and the good Lord let it drop.” Horrie had walked three times and bunted twice earlier in the game.
The contest, twice postponed because of storms, was finally played on Tuesday.
Hamilton (who later played for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1986-91) starred for Carman, notching three RBI on a triple in the top of the fifth inning to give Carman a 5-3 lead. Kirk White’s two-run homer for Gallagher in the bottom of the inning tied the game at five each. Darrin Lum doubled in the sixth for Carman, then scored on a single by Pat Richard to make it 6-5 before Don Rowland (later a member of University of Miami’s 1982 and 1985 NCAA championship baseball teams and a draft pick of the Detroit Tigers) tripled then scored following a sacrifice bunt by Andy Krause, again knotting the score.
With the win, Gallagher became Michigan’s first Class A team to repeat as champion, while Bresciami became the state’s first coach in Class A to win two titles.
Bresciami compiled a 545-149 record over 21 seasons at the school before retiring following the 1985 season. His teams earned three runner-up finishes (B-1974, B-1977, A-1984) and three Finals titles (A-1971, A-1981, A-1985). In addition, Gallagher returned to the Class B title game in 1986, falling to Battle Creek Lakeview, 4-3, under coach Bob Hadacz, a four-year assistant to Bresciami. Gallagher then won another crown in Class B in 1989, coached by Thomas Trompics.
On Monday, Bay City All Saints required only five innings to grab its second baseball title, trouncing Tecumseh 7-1. The Cougars had previously won the 1978 crown in Class C.
Tecumseh scored first, loading the bases in the top of the second inning and pushing a run across on Rex Robinson’s one-out single to grab a 1-0 lead. But it was all All Saints to follow. The Cougars responded in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single by Mark Berent, then added two more with Mike McIlhargey’s 385-foot home run shot to bump the score to 3-1. Catcher G.J. Zanotti added a solo homer in the third inning, then All Saints scored twice more in the fourth and again in the fifth. The game was called under MHSAA rules after three downpours made the field unplayable. Dave Laprairie went the distance for the win.
“For many on the team,” noted the Bay City Times years later, “their biggest game was not the state final win over Tecumseh. … To them, the real highlight was their semifinal against Mount Pleasant that was played in Bay City's Veterans Park before a crowd of nearly 3,000 people.” Mount Pleasant had finished as runner-up in Class B a year previous, and took All Saints – the top-ranked team in the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association (MHSBCA) regular-season final poll – to extra innings before surrendering, 10-7.
Following the postseason, All Saints shortstop Keith Miller was named to the MHSBCA Class B first-team all-state squad. (Miller would later play college baseball at Oral Roberts University, then carve out a nine-year career in the Major Leagues playing five seasons with the New York Mets and four with the Kansas City Royals.)
Allen Park Cabrini grabbed a 9-8 win over Buchanan in a thriller. It was the second title in three years for the Monarchs and coach Donald Oboza.
Suspended in the third inning on Saturday with Cabrini leading 1-0, the game was resumed Monday. Cabrini added four more runs in the inning for a quick 5-0 lead. Buchanan scored twice in the bottom of the third, and then tied the contest at 5-5 in fourth, highlighted by a John Ehlert home run.
The Monarchs jumped out to a 9-5 lead before storms delayed play for another hour and 35 minutes entering the seventh inning. When the game resumed, Buchanan rallied for three runs in dramatic fashion to pull within one.
“With (Buchanan) runners at first and second and no one out,” wrote Jack Walkden in the St. Joseph Herald-Palladium, “the Bucks John Ehlert hit a long drive up the alley in right-centerfield. But (Cabrini centerfielder John) Stanko went far to his left to haul down the drive over his shoulder. The play proved even more important when two of the next three Buchanan batters collected hits. If Ehlert’s drive had gotten through, Buchanan probably would have at least tied the game.”
“That guy made a heckuva play on Ehlert’s ball,” said Buchanan coach Bob Storm. “That was the ballgame.”
Cabrini’s senior righthander Tony DeMarti, “who several times left his shortstop position to pitch” due to the MHSAA’s rule that forbid one hurler from pitching more than a combined 30 outs over 10 innings in the Semifinals and Final, was “brought … back to the mound (in the seventh),” according to McCabe, “where he eventually ended the threat …”
Cabrini first baseman Mike McKelvey finished with a single and a double, driving in three runs. Stanko notched a single and a double, scored twice and added an RBI on the day for the Monarchs. DeMarti, who had scored the eventual game winner, also earned the victory in relief – his eighth win in 12 decisions on the year.
Cabrini finished with a 29-11 mark. Buchanan’s 27-5 record was the school’s best to date.
In the only game to finish as scheduled at CMU, Reading’s Randy Spangler (13-1) pitched a complete game, scattering five hits as the Rangers downed Mesick, 1-0.
The run came in the top of the first inning as catcher Mike Shoemaker walked, moved to second on a sacrifice by Jon Keger, and then scored on an error when Spangler’s grounder to deep short was thrown away.
Paul Ruskowski walked and stole second for Mesick in the bottom of the seventh inning, but was left on base. Coach Jack Kerspilo’s Rangers ended the year with a 26-3 record. Starter Chris McNitt took the loss for Mesick, which finished the season at 23-4.
Ron Pesch has taken an active role in researching the history of MHSAA events since 1985 and began writing for MHSAA Finals programs in 1986, adding additional features and "flashbacks" in 1992. He inherited the title of MHSAA historian from the late Dick Kishpaugh following the 1993-94 school year, and resides in Muskegon. Contact him at [email protected] with ideas for historical articles.
PHOTOS: (Top) Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher claimed the Class A baseball title in 1981, its second championship in the sport. (2) Future Dodgers infielder Jeff Hamilton waits on a pitch for Flint Carman in Class A. (3) John Stanko takes a cut for Allen Park Cabrini in the Class C title game. (4) Buchanan celebrates a homer by John Ehlert. (Photos collected by Ron Pesch.)
Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
So, 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.
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.
“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.
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 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.)