Flint Powers Catholic, Spring Lake End Long Waits to Reach Season Finale

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

June 14, 2024

EAST LANSING – After his eighth-inning, game-winning hit to finish Flint Powers Catholic’s Division 2 Semifinal win Friday, Chargers senior Gavin Darling gave away the secret to how 42-year head coach Tom Dutkowski stays so young and energetic.

“That dude works out more than probably half the team, honestly,” Darling said. “He’s a great guy, and we just want to do it for him as well.”

What top-ranked Flint Powers is aiming to do is capture a state baseball championship. Powers has that chance after Darling’s walk-off single to deep left field scored Eli Sturgess for a 4-3 victory over Trenton at Michigan State University’s McLane Stadium.

Powers (36-6) will face Spring Lake (32-9) in Saturday’s 5 p.m. Final. The Chargers are seeking their first Finals title since 1980, and first under Dutkowski’s tutelage.

“We want to win for him, man. It’s not only for us, but it’s for him,” Darling said. “He’s been working hard just like we have.”

Powers and pitcher Grant Garman cruised through the first four innings Friday, Garman carrying a perfect game as the Chargers built a 3-0 lead.

Trenton (30-11-1) began to make Powers work for it in the fifth. The Trojans collected five hits and scored three runs in the inning, keyed by Carson Boike’s two-run single, to knot the score at 3.

The tie remained until the bottom of the eighth inning, when Darling came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded. Powers’ cleanup hitter saw a pitch he could drive, and the rest is history.

“Just (looking for) a pitch to hit, man. They were playing in, so I just had to go for it. I don’t care if it’s a bloop single or a shot like that, I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do,” Darling said. “(It felt) pretty good to know that I had a guy on third that either way, if it’s caught, he’s tagging and we win the game.

“It’s an unreal feeling, man. These guys are my family, and I can’t thank them enough. They have my back just like I have theirs, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Garman allowed three earned runs on six hits with 10 strikeouts and one walk in five innings. Isaac Sturgess picked up the win in relief, not allowing a hit or run with four strikeouts and one walk over three innings.

Garman led the Powers offense with three hits, while Darling had a pair of RBIs.

Caleb Kidd finished with two hits to pace Trenton. Kidd got the start and worked four innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks in four innings. Joel Mator took the loss in relief for the Trojans, surrendering one earned run on three hits with five strikeouts and five walks in 3 1/3 innings.

“I can’t say enough about the fight that was in them,” Trenton coach Todd Szalka said. “He had a shutout (perfect game), we’re going into the top of the fifth, he’s throwing a no-hitter, and then, all of a sudden, we challenge them in the dugout and we come away with five hits in the fifth inning. I mean, that’s almost unheard of, especially against a good pitcher like (Grant) Garman. 

“No. 1 team in the state, you’re down 3-0, stakes are on the line, you’re looking at your last nine outs and our kids just continued to fight and went into extra innings. They got the big play when they needed it, and we had gotten the big play the last three games with walk-offs. I’m really proud of the way we came out today.”

Dutkowski instructed Darling to be “short to the ball” on his game-winning hit. The coach was very happy for the player, who “works as hard as anybody.”

Dutkowski believes his team is plenty battle-tested, too, competing in the Saginaw Valley League.

“The Saginaw Valley League is a gauntlet, especially for a school like Powers (as) the smallest school,” he said. “Not that we feel bad about that because we’ve got great players this year, but it is tough.

“ … We beat Bay City Western two out of three this year, and we beat Northville in the Flint Champions Tournament. Neither team was pitching their best, but we beat them. Yeah, we’re battle-tested.”

Dutkowski said that in his younger years, he might have been jumping up and down in the third-base coach’s box during the walk-off play.

On Friday, he said he stayed planted and wanted to make sure Eli Sturgess was tagging at third in case Darling’s deep fly ball was caught.

“I used to be what you’d call an athlete. I used to do all the histrionics, but now my job is to kind of keep guys steady, you know – get them back to neutral as soon as possible,” Dutkowski said.

“I have an ankle-foot orthotic. I am drop foot. I had fusion surgery about 19 months ago on L-4/L-5. No, I’m a wreck. I have this carbon fiber thing,” he said as he pointed to his lower right leg, “that keeps me upright. I’m retired now, so I work out.”

Click for the full box score.

Spring Lake 5, Richland Gull Lake 2

“Next pitch” has been a theme for the Spring Lake baseball team during its run to the Finals.

Of course, when you have Zane Stahl throwing the pitches, that always helps.

The 6-foot-6 Louisville commit scattered five hits and pitched to contact in powering Spring Lake to a 5-2 victory.

On Saturday, Spring Lake will be making its first Finals appearance since 1995 and third overall. The Lakers got there Friday in large part because of Stahl, the defense behind him, and timely hitting.

Spring Lake’s Gabe Trask drives a pitch in his team’s Semifinal winStahl, a right-handed junior, struck out four, walked four, and allowed two earned runs in the complete-game effort.

“(The defense) has been incredible. I’ve been able to make my pitch,” Stahl said. “You know, it’s not always about strikeouts; it’s about making the pitch and getting a ground ball. I mean, they’ve been able to make the routine plays that they’re supposed to and even make them outside of that, so it’s been great.”

Stahl helped his own cause, too. He finished 2-for-3 at the plate with two RBIs. Oliver Smies doubled twice for Spring Lake, while Gabe Trask had two hits for the Lakers, who have won 19 of their last 20 games.

Spring Lake took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and created separation with four runs in the fifth inning on four hits.

“Somebody else always seemed to pick us up at the right time. We got a couple of nice ground-ball double plays, so some things have fallen into place for us but I’m also a believer, sometimes you make your own luck,” Spring Lake coach Bill Core said. “What we’ve been impressed with so much is somebody always seems to pick up their teammate or somebody’s been coming through with a big play at the right time.

“We’re not a bunch of superstars, but everybody has a role and we’ve got a different hero (each game).”

Gull Lake (26-12) showed life in the later innings, scoring a run on two hits in the sixth and another run on two more hits in the seventh.

Western Michigan University commit Julian Harris took the pitching loss for the Blue Devils. The right-hander allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits with eight strikeouts and one walk in four innings.

“When you get to the final four, no one’s weak, especially against a good arm like (Stahl’s) – you’re scratching and clawing for every run that you get,” Gull Lake coach Reggie Walters said. “If you tie that ballgame up, it just changes the feel of things instead of chasing.

“We wanted to wear (Stahl) down and he started to show that in the sixth and the seventh, but he threw a great game. … It was like, ‘Man, if we would have started it one inning earlier, you don’t know where you’re going to end up.’”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Flint Powers Catholic's Eli Sturgess (3) crosses the plate for the winning run during his team's Semifinal victory Friday at McLane Stadium. (Middle) Spring Lake’s Gabe Trask drives a pitch.