Glad to Bring Baseball Back to Gladstone

May 9, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Blake Ballard looked out at the snow covering Gladstone last month and figured it would never melt. When he and his teammates finally played in their first tournament of the season April 20, the temperature couldn’t have broken 30 degrees.

It’s the annual plight of a high school baseball player. And Ballard and teammates are glad to enjoy it for the first time – as members of Gladstone’s first high school baseball team since 1959.

The Braves made their re-debut last month thanks to a full community effort that included deft advising from the eventual coach, creative thinking by the administration and school board and enthusiastic fundraising by parents and supporters – none of which is lost on a group of athletes who are off to a 10-3 start heading into Thursday’s doubleheader against Escanaba.

“Once we figured out it was going to happen, we were excited. Kids started practicing a lot,” said Ballard, one of the team’s two seniors. “It’s going to be pretty sweet later on. Whoever didn’t (play) will regret it.”

Gladstone has roughly 5,000 residents, and baseball has remained a staple of the community over the last half century – just not as the high school level.

Children grow up playing in the local little league and on travel teams, and then graduate to American Legion ball when they are older. But for any number of reasons – including weather-related difficulties in scheduling, low interest or lack of facilities – only 19 Upper Peninsula MHSAA high schools offer baseball. 

At Gladstone, boys instead played and can continue to choose from track and field, golf and tennis during the spring. Ballard, for example, was a golfer before getting his chance on the diamond this year. 

A football and basketball player too, he often was asked why his school didn't play baseball – and really had no idea how to answer.

Community members had campaigned for baseball in the past, said athletic director Matt Houle. He’s worked at Gladstone for more than 30 years, and has seen four or five strong pushes over the last decade alone.  

But those efforts faced two challenges. The first was funding – all programs at Gladstone previously were funded by the school, but baseball if added would have to raise its own money. And the school also wanted to make sure to continue complying with Title IX, which meant finding more opportunities for female students as well if a baseball team was added for the boys. (Gladstone already has a softball program, and it’s one of the state’s best of the last decade with two MHSAA titles and a runner-up finish last season in Division 3.)

Enter former Escanaba baseball coach Don Lauscher.

He and two others keyed a similar effort that led to Escanaba High School creating a baseball program in 2002, and he also assisted Marquette when it added baseball four seasons ago. He had coached Gladstone Legion teams in 2005 and 2006 and Escanaba's varsity to a 130-27 record from 2007-11, but wasn't looking to become coach of a new program – he just hoped to lend his knowledge on getting it started.

Rallying the community was the easy part. And to keep with Title IX, Gladstone added self-funded co-ed swimming and bowling programs.

Supporters convinced the school board they could fund the program – and already have the team two years ahead on its expected financial obligations thanks to special events but also additional donations from local foundations and independently by other members of the community.

“Our community has always been supportive of our athletic teams. And being a town looked upon as a strong baseball/softball program, it was inevitable it would happen,” Houle said.

“People kept coming up and saying, ‘Congratulations Coach. We’re really behind you,’” Lauscher said of a recent breakfast fundraiser. “It’s amazing.”

The community is getting its money’s worth.

Ironically, an uncle of Lauscher's wife played on that 1959 Gladstone team. That didn't play into his taking over as coach, but he had other reasons. 

Perhaps most of all, Lauscher missed teaching the game. He's coached it at just about every youth level and attended clinics as far away as Georgia and Louisiana, and enjoys passing on what he's learned. And life events fell into play to allow the opportunity to be assisted by his son Kurt and nephew B.J.; both played at Grand Rapids Community College and Kurt also pitched at Central Michigan University.

Again, because of the summer programs, Lauscher didn’t start completely from scratch. A core group including Ballard, juniors Christian Groleau, Christian Tackman, Sam Pouliot and sophomore Justin Jurek gave the Braves a quality pitching staff and some high school-comparable experience. Still, the team didn't have a catcher when practice began and fundamentals have been the focus as the coaches bring everyone up to speed. 

As a whole, the 14-player roster has caught on quickly.

“Seeing the things these kids didn't know to where they are now, I’m very surprised where they are now,” Don Lauscher said.

The team plays at its local Legion field, which has lights and is only about a quarter-mile from the school. The Braves hosted their first “Parents Night” last week and truly are inclusive of the full student body with Lucas LaCosse joining Ballard as the seniors, followed by five juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen.

Gladstone’s other spring sports haven’t lost out much, if at all. The track and field team has 41 athletes and the golf team has 16; the tennis team is down to 11, but graduated a large senior class last season.

More Upper Peninsula schools are talking about adding baseball and softball, Houle said; Hancock softball played its first games ever Wednesday. Schools looking to get a program together would be wise to follow Gladstone’s road map.

“There is so much enthusiasm for it right now,” Houle said. “Just being at the diamond around kids I know so well, to see in their faces the excitement ... I’m very honored. There’s a great sense of pride among these kids.”

After the team's first four dates were canceled, Ballard threw the first game of Gladstone High's modern history.

“It was weird. (But) everyone liked it," he said. "It seemed like a big difference, playing for our school now."

PHOTOS: (Top) Christian Tackman (10) prepares to throw to first base while shortstop Blake Ballard follows behind during a game this spring. (Middle) Gladstone catcher Justin Jurek looks toward the dugout for a signal. (Photos courtesy of Lori Jurek). 

No Runs, No Hits: East Jordan Aces Toss 4 Straight Shutouts, 3 Straight No-Hitters

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 17, 2024

Playing shortstop this year for East Jordan High School admittedly has become rather boring at times.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThere hasn’t been a whole lot of action at what’s usually the busiest spot in the infield — no matter who is playing it.

Junior Eli Burns knows that better than anyone. He is the Red Devils’ regular shortstop. He also pitches.

Ryder Malpass knows what it’s like to play short this season as well – he’s normally in the spot when Burns is on the mound.

But he also has a feel for how little the shortstop does regularly for the Division 4 No. 16 Red Devils from his usual spot at catcher – receiving behind the plate for a pitching staff averaging almost two strikeouts per inning. 

Just recently, East Jordan put together three straight no-hitters and four straight shutouts.

“It’s good,” Burns said of playing short. “When you have confidence with your pitchers you don’t have to worry about the ball being hit to you that much.”

Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. Malpass, a junior, started the shoutout string himself with a 4-0 win over Bellaire last week, when he earned the win throwing 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts while going 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and RBI. Junior Korbyn Russell closed out the game.

Then Burns started the no-hitter run in the second game that night with Bellaire, a 6-0 Red Devils win. Burns had 10 strikeouts and just a single walk allowed. He also tripled in the game.

This week the no-hitter string continued with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Boyne City. Russell and senior Lucas Stone threw the Red Devils’ third and fourth no-hitters of the season.

Stone threw a perfect game across six innings. He struck out 12 batters on just 70 pitches and also went 2 for 3 with an RBI against the Ramblers. Russell earned the 1-0 win over Boyne City with 5 1/3 no-hit innings behind 11 strikeouts and with just a lone walk allowed. Stone followed Russell to pick up the save for the Red Devils, now 13-9-1 overall on the season and 6-4 in Lake Michigan Conference play.  

Russell is 6-2 on the season with two saves. Going into Thursday’s game with Charlevoix, he had struck out 92 batters over 42 innings while compiling a 0.86 ERA. Stone is 5-2. Before suffering his second loss of the season to the Rayders, his ERA was 1.17 and he had fanned 38 in 36 innings of work. Burns has racked up 17 strikeouts so far in just over 14 innings.

“It’s pretty special to be a part of something not many teams can do,” Russell said. “We have a special group of pitchers to get the job done.”

Stone credits the Red Devils’ defensive play for the pitching staff’s success.

“Our defense has helped the pitching a lot because they don’t make a lot of errors,” Stone said.  “It makes it a lot easier when you know they are going to make plays behind you.”

Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch.East Jordan came into this week beginning to approach the state records for consecutive shutout innings and games. That ended yesterday in twin bill losses to Division 3 No. 11 Charlevoix. But the Red Devils still can chase the national record of nine no-hit games in a season. (No official record is kept for no-hitters by a Michigan high school team in a season.)

There is also no known record of any East Jordan team racking up three no-hitter wins in a row.

“I don’t think there’s been any stretch with three no-hitters in a row, so that is pretty special,” noted East Jordan coach Adam Grybauskas. “We’re kind of picking up where things were last year and trying to build on last year’s success and make it even better this year.”

The Red Devils captured a Division 4 District championship in 2023 and then a 9-6 Regional Semifinal win over Gaylord St. Mary. The season came to an end in the Regional Final with a 2-0 loss to Painsdale Jeffers.

Russel, Stones and Burns were on the pitching staff last year as East Jordan made that run. The Red Devils will host the District tournament this year as familiar opponents Bellaire, Central Lake and Ellsworth will vie to stop East Jordan’s attempt at repeating as champion. The doubleheader loss to undefeated Charlevoix ended the Red Devils’ hopes of sharing the LMC title with the Rayders.

“I think we’ve played a little bit better competition this year,’ Grybauskas said.  “Our focus this year is taking each doubleheader at a time, and try to get better each week.

“It’s really been game by game and week to week,” he continued. “You’re always looking to do better than last year so obviously that will be something we’ll talk about in the future.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) East Jordan’s Lucas Stone winds up during a game. (Middle) Ryder Malpass keeps an eye on a runner before making his move toward the plate. (Below) Korbyn Russell prepares to unload a pitch. (Photos courtesy of the East Jordan athletic department.)