By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Few would argue that the formula for a successful high school baseball team usually includes hard throwers, slick fielders and a lineup stacked with guys who can move runs across the plate.
But team chemistry is an often-overlooked part of that formula that this spring has meant everything to Garden City, one of the best turnaround stories in the state this season and the MHSAA/Applebee’s Team of the Month for April.
A year ago, the Cougars were on their way to an 8-20 finish. This spring, Garden City is 22-3 with a share of the Western Wayne Athletic Conference title and a No. 12 ranking in this week’s Division 1 state coaches poll.
“It sounds like something simple and an easy thing (to say), but team chemistry wasn’t there – it truly was an issue the last few years,” first-year varsity coach Jon Evans said. “They’d start out hot, and just out of nowhere the team would fall off the cliff. … They’d have tight ballgames, but they couldn’t win a one-run game.
“This year, it seems like the team is a lot closer. They play for each other. That’s helping us. When we’re in close games, we’re winning them now. Every day in practice, every day on the field, the kids are playing for each other.”
It’s impossible to argue with the results. Garden City equaled last season’s win total by April 8 and earned one of its best victories of the season by just a run, 1-0 over preseason Division 2 No. 1 Detroit Country Day.
Chemistry on the field no doubt has been cultivated in part from familiarity with the coach. Evans graduated from Garden City when his seniors were in junior high, in 2014, and after a year playing at Defiance College in Ohio coached the Cougars’ junior varsity the last three seasons while finishing his studies at Eastern Michigan University.
“It's nice because they know when I can say I can relate to them, they know that's true,” Evans said. “I was just in their shoes five years ago, even in the classroom, with things they go through inside the school. I had all the teachers. They have assignments, and I look at the assignment and say I remember doing this. It’s easy for me to help them, and it’s good for players building trust with their coach to know their coach just went through this.”
He took over the varsity in February and previously coached 15 of 18 players on this spring’s roster. Evans’ JV went 15-7 a year ago – a nice sign for this season and the next few to come.
He also had paid attention to behind-the-scenes workings of running a varsity program over the last few years, and all of that familiarity made for a smooth transition when he took over.
“(The success) is not because of me, but having the same coach, I saw them every game they played freshman and sophomore year and I know what their tendencies are, what’s going through their minds,” he said. “It’s tougher competition, but I know how the kids are going respond. It didn’t take a few weeks for me – I knew right away what they were going to do, and the kids knew my coaching style and knew me stepping up to varsity was not going to change who I was.”
A trio of seniors has led the way offensively. First baseman Kevin Widner is hitting .457 with a .636 on-base percentage and 15 RBI, while catcher Trevor McCorry comes in at .438 with six doubles and Jacob Grant is hitting .426 with seven extra-base hits, 17 RBI, 28 runs scored and a .614 on-base percentage. Junior second and third baseman and pitcher Jacob May is adding a .379 average, 29 runs scored and 19 RBI to the offensive output.
Grant is the ace on the mound with a 6-0 record and 1.04 ERA over 34 innings. A number of other pitchers fill out a deep staff of contributors – Widner again stands out with a perfect ERA and 19 strikeouts over 10 innings pitched.
The program had postseason success as recently as 2016, when it won a District title. There is reason to be excited with this spring’s District less than two weeks away, but the Cougars are being cautious – the District opener is against Livonia Franklin, one of just two teams to beat Garden City this season (they split; the other losses came in a sweep by Trenton), and the bracket is competitive throughout.
Evans had a feeling this group would do the little things that, combined with their talent, have sparked a memorable run. Regardless of how this spring finishes up, it’s fair to say it’s been unforgettable so far.
“I had a feeling we’d have a good year this year – it’s a talented group, and when they play hard, when they do the little things right, they succeed,” Evans said. “I saw it on JV – when they played good defense, ran the bases well, put the ball in play, those teams did well.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2018-19
March: Holland West Ottawa boys swimming & diving – Read
February: Lowell wrestling – Read
January: Farmington United gymnastics – Read
December: Warren Woods-Tower wrestling – Read
November: Rochester Adams girls swimming & diving – Read
October: Leland boys soccer – Read
September: Pickford football – Read
August: Northville girls golf – Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Garden City celebrates during a win over Detroit Country Day last month. (Middle) Senior Jacob Grant fires a pitch – he’s 6-0 this spring. (Photos courtesy of State Champs Sports Network.)
Standish-Sterling’s run to the 2022 Division 3 Semifinals was driven in part by a record-setting offense, including a pair of senior standouts who posted single-season and career highlights.
The Panthers made the team record book in four categories, topped by a record 28 triples over 42 games. They also were added for 371 RBI (fourth all-time), 425 runs (12th) and 414 hits.
Cole Prout tied the MHSAA record for runs scored in one season with 84 and set the record with 27 career triples over three seasons (with 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). His 13 triples in 2022 tied for third on that list, while Chase Raymond’s 10 tied for 11th. Prout also tied for 12th all-time with 182 career runs, while Raymond is eighth on the single-season RBI list with 77 over 42 games in 2022 and earned a career RBI entry with 140.
Prout plays now at Central Michigan, and Raymond is playing at Saginaw Valley State.
See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA baseball record book:
Alden Stefanovski played a major role in Whitmore Lake reaching the 2022 Division 4 Semifinals. The senior also made the record book with 20 doubles over 33 games, the first from his school to earn a listing. He was joined in 2023 in the records by senior Alex Di Dio, who hit nine triples over 29 games and also three home runs in one game April 13 against Adrian Madison. Di Dio also was added for 13 triples and a .460 average for his three-season career, and he’s continuing at Kalamazoo College.
Trenton senior Jason Marshall was nearly unstoppable on the base paths during the 2022 season – and perfect stealing on them. He made the record book with 49 steals in 49 attempts, and also for seven triples over 35 games. He’s playing football at Eastern Michigan.
Trent Hagenbach finished his Saginaw Valley Lutheran career in 2022 tied for 11th on the career triples list with 16 despite not having a 2020 season and hitting all of them over the final two. He also made the records for his seven as a junior and nine as a senior.
Dansville had 10 pitchers contribute to its 388 strikeouts over 38 games during the 2022 season, a total which placed the Aggies second all-time. Tucker Mosley paced the team with 137 strikeouts.
Parchment’s Aaron Jasiak finished his three-season varsity career with seven record book entries, including one of the most impressive winning streaks all-time. He won all 26 pitching starts over his career, which didn’t start until his sophomore season because of the COVID-related cancelation of 2020. His winning streak is the seventh longest in MHSAA history, and his 0.87 ERA ranks 11th. He also made career lists with 163 runs scored, 112 stolen bases and a .460 batting average over 103 games, and his 60 steals over 38 games this spring rank 10th. He’s continuing at Hillsdale College.
Bay City Western finished 42-2 in winning the Division 1 championship in 2013, ranking sixth for most wins in a baseball season. The Warriors also tied the record with 21 shutouts, and their 1.02 ERA ranks fifth all-time.
Grandville Calvin Christian senior Blake Pettijohn struck out 20 batters in a 7-0 win over Belding on May 11, which tied for seventh-most for a seven-inning game. He’s continuing at Hope College.
Grant’s Oakley Obenauf made the single-season stolen bases list in the spring with 45 over 29 games – and was a major contributor as his team made the single-game list multiple times. He had a combined eight steals over two games as Grant swiped 13 and 11 bases during halves of a doubleheader May 11. Obenauf is a senior this school year.
Paw Paw reached the team record book this past spring after being hit by 50 pitches over 30 games. Seven players were hit by at least five pitches, with the team leader totaling 10.
Lansing Eastern earned its first record book entries from a pair of graduating seniors this spring. Dominic Wilson capped his three-season varsity career with 134 stolen bases, which rank 10th. He swiped a career-high 51 as a senior. Teammate Matthew Stevenson made the career batting average list at .472 despite getting only eight at bats as a sophomore because of an injury.
Benzie Central’s Wyatt Noffsinger enjoyed a memorable run to nearly finish off his high school career, throwing consecutive no-hitters against Buckley on May 24 and then Manton on June 3.
Okemos then-junior Caleb Bonemer earned his first record book entry with three home runs June 3 against Grand Ledge as his team clinched a Division 1 District title. Bonemer has committed to sign with Virginia.
After 45 years, Flint Southwestern’s Ruben Luna and Risto Nicevski were added for their accomplishments on the 1978 Class A championship team. Luna made the wins list with a record of 14-0 and the ERA list with a 0.71, and Nicevski made the ERA list with a 0.72. Both went on to play at Michigan State.
East Lansing’s Sam Busch enjoyed a career day on April 12, 2019, when he hit three home runs in consecutive at bats against Ionia. A junior that season, he’s now playing at Michigan State.
Powers North Central’s Adrian Mercier enjoyed a record-worthy junior season this spring. He hit .619 over 32 games, ranking 10th all-time for a single season.
Whitehall senior Cayden Ritchie chased and nearly caught the single-season stolen base record in 2021, when he tied for second with 72 steals over 36 games. He also made the single-game steals list five times, twice with a high of six.
Aidan Liedeke capped his Brighton Charyl Stockwell career in the spring with some of the most impressive strikeout numbers in state history. Already listed for averaging 15.41 strikeouts per game as a junior in 2022, he averaged 14.92 Ks per game this spring to finish his three-season career at 15 strikeouts per game. He posted a 0.88 ERA in the spring as well to finish with a career 1.52. He’s playing at Kalamazoo College.
Killian Bies finished his Marshall three-season career in the spring among leaders all-time for getting hit by pitches. He already had tied for sixth as a sophomore in 2021 with 22 HBPs, and with 14 more both his junior and senior seasons he finished with 50 to rank fifth on that list. He’s continuing at Cornerstone.
PHOTO Standish-Sterling's Cole Prout (8) readies for a pitch during his team's 2022 Division 3 Semifinal.