Forest Hills Eastern, GR Christian Set Up all-Grand Rapids-area D2 Final
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
June 16, 2022
EAST LANSING – As much as he tried to keep it out of his mind, it became nearly impossible for Ada Forest Hills Eastern senior pitcher Jacob Pallo to do so late in his team’s Division 2 Semifinal against Goodrich.
Pallo was four outs away from a no-hitter Thursday, but then a bloop single with two outs in the sixth ended that hope of him making history.
“A little bit,” Pallo said when asked if he had to compose himself after the no-hitter was broken up. “But I just tried to keep it out of my mind as much as I could.”
Pallo might not have done something historic, but he did something extraordinary for his team and set up another historic opportunity. His 6 2/3 shutout innings helped lead No. 1 Forest Hills Eastern to a 6-0 win over No. 4 Goodrich and its first trip to an MHSAA Finals championship game.
It was the type of game where scoring first seemed more important than usual, given Pallo (9-0, 0.95 ERA, 79 K, 12 BB going into the game) was going up against Goodrich ace Noah Keller (12-0, 141 K, 14 BB), who had given up just one earned run all year.
But the Hawks (38-4) put pressure on Goodrich’s defense with its bunt game and got some timely hits to give Pallo a lead.
“Keller is a helluva pitcher, and we just had to figure out how to manufacture stuff,” Forest Hills Eastern coach Ian Hearn said. “He’s a winner. We had a couple of situations where we thought the bunt could work, and we moved some runners over. Of course, after you move runners over, you still have to get a key hit. We were able to get a couple of those.”
Forest Hills Eastern struck first on an RBI single by senior Brian Messing, who hit a grounder just past a drawn-in infield to score pinch-runner Walter Brockie from third base and make it 1-0.
Following a leadoff single by senior Leo Hearn, Brockie had ended up reaching third base after a successful sacrifice bunt by junior Mac DenBraber. Brockie rounded second base and beat the throw to third as the Goodrich third baseman was racing back to the bag after trying to field the bunt.
Forest Hills Eastern took a 2-0 lead in the third inning on an RBI single by senior Evan Parks, who brought home senior Caleb Kuiper after he reached second on two Goodrich errors. The Hawks then plated another run in the fourth inning on a two-out single by senior Collin Fridsma, who scored to make it 3-0.
After Liford broke up Pallo’s no-hit bid in the sixth, Keller singled to put runners on first and second for the Martians. But Pallo got out of the jam with a strikeout to preserve a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Forest Hills Eastern added three insurance runs. Following a leadoff double by Messing and a sacrifice bunt, freshman Brendan Thompson singled home Messing to make it 4-0 Hawks. A bunt single by Fridsma advanced Thompson to third, and Forest Hills Eastern then went up 5-0 on a successful squeeze bunt by Kuiper. Parks then followed it up with an RBI single to give Forest Hills Eastern a 6-0 lead.
Pallo finished with nine strikeouts and three walks in improving to 10-0 on the year.
Keller allowed five earned runs and struck out nine for Goodrich (37-3), which committed three errors.
“It’s hard to win a game when you don’t score any runs,” Goodrich head coach Bob Foreback said. “Their kid threw a good game. We had hard-hit shots early in the game right at guys, and that made the difference. Whoever had the lead early on was probably going to win this game.”
Grand Rapids Christian 9, Grosse Ile 1
Hot bats carried Grand Rapids Christian to East Lansing and the Division 2 Semifinals, so it was fitting they carried the Eagles again once there.
Entering the contest with 49 runs over five previous tournament games, Grand Rapids Christian added nine more on 17 hits.
Junior Ty Uchman went 3-for-4 with three RBI, junior Kyle Remington had three hits and senior Nathan Hedlund added two hits and two RBI to lead Grand Rapids Christian (27-8).
“We’ve been on a hot streak lately,” Uchman said. “There’s energy and when we have that, we can do a lot of good things. That’s really helped us.”
Grand Rapids Christian broke through in the top of the third inning, scoring a pair of runs to grab a 2-0 lead. Remington led off the inning with a double, and then went to third when sophomore Jackson Isaacs reached second on a throwing error. Remington then scored on an RBI single to center by Uchman, and Isaacs scored on a fielder’s choice groundout from Hedlund.
Grosse Ile broke through in the fourth inning, cutting its deficit to 2-1 on an RBI single to center by senior William Lowery, who plated junior Cannon Kawadri after Kawadri hit a one-out double to the gap in left-center.
But the Eagles essentially put the game away with a big rally in the sixth inning, scoring seven runs on nine hits. The first came on an RBI triple over the centerfielder’s head by junior Josh Winkle, and then sophomore Cannon Paul scored Winkle with an RBI single to make it 4-1 Grand Rapids Christian.
Senior Alec Koval and Uchman followed with two-run doubles, and Hedlund hit an RBI single, to make it 9-1 Eagles.
“I think we were having good at-bats, and then we all of a sudden started to find some holes and got a little momentum going throughout that inning,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Brent Gates said. “It was nice getting those runs later in the game, for sure.”
The offense was more than enough support for Remington, who allowed five hits, struck out nine and didn’t walk a batter in a complete-game win.
Kawadri and senior Tyler Garza each had two hits for Grosse Ile, which finished 23-7.
PHOTOS (Top) Ada Forest Hills Eastern players celebrate during Thursday’s Division 2 Semifinal win over Goodrich. (Middle) Grand Rapids Christian’s Christian Burgess connects on a bunt. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)