Foley Becomes Baseball's 1st to Win 3 Straight

June 15, 2013

By Andy Sneddon
Special to Second Half

BATTLE CREEK – Be it with the bunt, the big hit or anything in between, Madison Heights Bishop Foley showed – once again – it can beat an opponent myriad ways.

The Ventures pounded out 12 hits including four doubles Saturday in topping Grandville Calvin Christian, 12-5, in the Division 3 championship game.

The win gave No. 1-ranked Foley an MHSAA record three consecutive titles.

And the Ventures’ may just be hitting their stride.

“We say a couple things,” Foley coach Buster Sunde said when pointing to the keys to his program’s success. “Nobody’s going to outwork us, and on the field we’re not going to give away anything.

“And, every single game, we don’t play, really, to our opponent; we play to get better, and we want to leave the field a better team each game. That’s our focus. It’s not who we play or who’s after us or anything like that. We want to be a better team when we leave the field.”

Or the best, as has been the case in each of the past three seasons. The Ventures finished 35-2-1 and are a combined 112-8-1 since the start of 2011.

“It’s character, it really is, and that is flat-out the truth,” said Sunde, who is in his fifth season at the school. “We’ve got seniors and freshmen hanging out together. There’s a special bond, and we’ve had it year after year. You can say what you want; you can get that big lefty who throws 92, 93 (mph), but I’ll take character all the time and work with that.”

It doesn’t hurt to have some solid arms and big bats. Both were on display on Saturday at C.O. Brown Stadium.

Michael Murley and Chad Gravlin each went 3 1/3 innings on the mound for the Ventures, and Michael Reid came on to get the final out. Murley started and did not allow a hit, but he did walk five, hit a batter and allowed two runs. Gravlin surrendered three runs on four hits, while walking two. The pair combined to strike out five.

They got plenty of support. The heart of Foley’s order – Nathaniel Grys, cleanup man William Malak and Michael Reid – combined to go 5-for-8 with five RBI.

Foley’s four doubles – one each by Grys, Malak, Reid and Murley -- tied the record for doubles in an MHSAA Final.

“We swung the bats, and that’s what we’ve done all year long,” said Sunde, adding that his players may have played Saturday’s Final with a chip on their shoulders after the storyline in Foley’s 6-0 Semifinal win over Bridgman on Friday was that the Ventures had played small-ball. “I told (my players) last night in the meeting that everyone thinks you’re a small-ball team. So they had a little something in them that they wanted to show they can swing the bats.

“We had to do it a different way today. We had to do it with our bats, and I think we went out and did that.”

They did, and they served notice that they aren’t going anywhere. They will graduate just two players, Malak and Gravlin, and Sunde shows no signs of letting off the gas.

“We try to make our schedule as tough as we can,” Sunde said. “We play the toughest teams every year in our nonleague games, and I think that makes you a better team. When we need to improve at something, we work at it.

“It’s like I tell (my players): each team, every year, has gotten better as the season has gone on, and that’s how you win the state championship.

“If you stay the same team that you are in March and April, you’re not going to win. Someone will get up and get you. Next year, if we can grow as a team as our teams have in the past, and we can be the best team we can be on this day, then we have a good shot. We really do.”

Junior Jamie Bristol was the lone Calvin Christian batter to have multiple hits, finishing 2-for-4 with an RBI. The Squires did get within 3-2 heading into the bottom of the third inning before Bishop Foley scored the next six runs. 

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bishop Foley junior David Chung connects with a pitch during Saturday’s Division 3 Final; he finished 2-for-4. (Middle) Senior Chad Gravlin prepares to fire a pitch after coming on in relief. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)