Gull Lake Rallying for Another Run

May 31, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A year ago, Richland Gull Lake coach Bill Blakely looked across C.O. Brown stadium and saw one of the state’s top power hitters of all-time – plus five sophomores battling through the nerves of playing in an MHSAA Division 2 Semifinal.

This spring, that big bat – catcher Zach Fish – played instead for Oklahoma State University. But now, the Blue Devils’ coach sees a team filled with big-game experience and capable of rolling despite the graduation of an all-state Dream Teamer or the recent loss of its ace pitcher to an injury.

Gull Lake is 34-2 this spring and 72-4 over the last two heading into Saturday’s District at Otsego. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 1 in Division 2 with wins over No. 2 Grand Rapids Christian, No. 7 St. Clair and previously-ranked Division 1 Portage Central – that last victory coming Saturday by a score of 9-7 in the Greater Kalamazoo Tournament championship game.

“They remember the games from last year, the importance of playing clean,” Blakely said of his team, which despite Fish's graduation returned this spring nearly intact. “They remember from last year that mistakes can just kill you, and you have to minimize those regardless of the competition.”

That perspective should continue to pay off as the Blue Devils attempt to reach Battle Creek again in three weeks – and this time advance to their first MHSAA championship game.

This week’s Second Half High 5 team honoree has gotten pitching wins from 10 players. Five have at least four wins, and together the staff has a 2.24 ERA. Three pitchers will do the same at Division I or II colleges next season – Nate Stegman (5-1) at Eastern Kentucky University, Lucas Hamelink (7-0) at Hillsdale College and Anthony Wargolet (4-0) at Lake Erie College.

That level of pitching depth is rare to say the least. But as of Thursday morning, Blakely still wasn’t sure who would start Saturday’s District Semifinal. Stegman, an all-state selection in 2011, suffered an arm injury a few weeks ago and might not make it back even if Gull Lake returns to Bailey Park.

So the Blue Devils also must continue to rely on a line-up that returned eight starters from last season’s Semifinal order. Three are hitting at least .400 – shortstop Colton Bradley (.488), third baseman Logan Holwerda (.467) and second baseman/catcher Patrick Gaudard (.402). More impressively, 12 players total have an on-base percentage of at least .400, and the team has 138 stolen bases while being caught only 20 times.

“We’ve talked about having the pieces in place where we could make a run for it,” Blakely said. “We’ll put the pieces together. We’ve won this year differently that last year – we’ve bunted a lot more, stolen a lot more. That part for us is completely new.”

But the pressure that comes now is not. Not only is most of the team back from last season, but Hamelink, Gaudard and junior Connor Owen were part of their 100th Gull Lake wins Saturday – the Blue Devils also went 30-11 when all three were on the team in 2010.

The tough part now will be extending the streak without Stegman. But that depth and experience will go a long way toward making it possible.

“The games when something is on the line, they’ve been more focused and less nervous,” Blakeley said. “And we purposely put together a difficult schedule to have that playoff game atmosphere.”

PHOTO: Outfielder Aaron Fadden is hitting .283 with 14 stolen bases this season after also starting for Gull Lake in 2011.

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.)