EAST LANSING – Stephen Kwapis is headed off to Notre Dame next season to play baseball at his dream school.
The Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep senior captain couldn’t leave high school without helping make another dream come true.
The Irish built an early lead and never looked back en route to defeating Marine City Cardinal Mooney 9-2 in Saturday’s Division 4 Final at Michigan State’s McLane Stadium.
“It’s unreal,” said a wide-eyed and giddy Kwapis, who went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI.
“I’ve been dreaming about this for my whole life, and for it to actually happen ... it hasn’t hit me yet, honestly. I can’t believe that just happened.”
It was the first Finals win in school history for Hackett baseball, which reached the championship game for the first time.
Hackett (31-9) scored at least one run in each of the first four innings and received stellar pitching from senior Sam Shea and junior reliever Brenden Collins.
“It’s surreal to watch these boys accomplish this,” Irish first-year coach Smiley Verduzco said. “They worked so hard, and it’s all about the boys. We’ve had some really tough games, and this was a really good baseball team that we beat. To be able to do this is very special for these young men.”
Shea and Collins combined to limit Mooney to only four hits while striking out seven.
“They’ve been good all year, and to step on this stage and to come through like that is very special,” Verduzco said.
Shea wasn’t slated to pitch in the Final after starting the Semifinal. However, the lineup’s big first inning Friday against Glen Lake allowed him to return after throwing only 23 pitches.
“I’m thankful that I was able to pitch in the last game because I didn’t think that would happen,” Shea said. “It was unbelievable to pitch in the championship game, and it was super important to get those early runs so we could calm down and play our usual baseball.”
Kwapis had a strong belief in his team’s ability to make a postseason run. He said it was apparent early due to the tight-knit bond.
“I knew the brotherhood that this team had, and that’s what made this team so special,” he said. “We all came together at the beginning of the year, and I just knew by the way we played that we could make it happen.”
Hackett’s bats were pivotal throughout the tournament, scoring 71 runs over its seven postseason games.
Isaac Backman also had two hits for Hackett, while Eli Backman and Steven Widger each had a hit and two RBI.
The Irish went ahead 2-0 in the first inning after a Kwapis RBI single and sacrifice fly from Shea.
They extended their lead to 8-1 after four innings.
“They came out hacking,” Mooney coach Mike Rice said. “They were hitting the ball, and we haven’t been squared up like that in a while. We tried our best and gave it our all, but at the end of the day they out-hit us and we made some defensive mistakes.”
Mooney, also making its first Final appearance, committed four errors on the day and left 10 runners on base.
The Cardinals ended the season with a 28-7 overall record.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep players raise their championship trophy Saturday night at McLane Stadium. (Middle) Sam Shea charges hard to make a catch in right field.
Brad Bush, a highly-respected educator, administrator and coach over the last three decades, has been selected to serve in the position of assistant director for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, beginning Jan. 17.
Bush, 52, taught and coached at East Kentwood High School for four years before beginning a tenure at Chelsea High School in 1997 that has included teaching, then serving as athletic director and later also assistant principal and leading the football program as varsity coach from 1997-2002 and again from 2004-18.
He also has served as a statewide delegate on the MHSAA Representative Council during the last year and provided leadership in multiple roles, including president, for the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) since 2005.
Bush will serve as the MHSAA’s lead administrator for baseball and also among lead administrators for the officials program, which includes more than 8,000 registered officials in all sports. Bush also will be assigned additional duties in other sports based on his vast experiences. He was selected from a pool of 34 applicants.
“I’m incredibly excited to have Brad join our team,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. "He’s been an outstanding athletic director and coach who is highly-respected by those who know him.”
As Chelsea athletic director, Bush annually has supervised a staff of 110 coaches across 31 programs, with nearly 70 percent of the high school’s 800 students participating in athletics. As a teacher and assistant principal, he has served on Chelsea’s School Improvement Team and on multiple committees that provided instructional leadership including in the development of the district’s new trimester schedule. In his roles with the MHSFCA, Bush helped direct an organization with more than 2,200 members and also served as the association’s treasurer and liaison to the MHSAA.
Bush is perhaps best known, however, for his coaching success. Over 22 seasons, he led Chelsea’s varsity football team to a 169-60 record, 13 league championships, 18 playoff appearances, seven District titles and a Division 3 runner-up finish in 2015. During his break in tenure as Chelsea coach, Bush served as an assistant football coach and recruiting coordinator for Eastern Michigan University during the 2003-04 school year, and he has served as an assistant coach at Albion College the last four seasons contributing to the team’s two league titles and appearance in the 2021 NCAA Division III Playoffs.
“I feel like joining the team at the MHSAA is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Bush said. “The 26 years I spent at Chelsea were some of the best times of my life. It’s a professional transition that in the back of my mind, if this opportunity came, was something I needed to do.
“Over time, I’ve grown to care about the bigger picture of athletics and appreciate the role of the MHSAA in protecting high school athletics in Michigan.”
Bush is a 1988 graduate of Ypsilanti High School. He studied and played quarterback at Cornell University before returning and graduating from EMU after majoring in history and minoring in social studies. He earned his physical education endorsement from EMU in 2000 and his master’s in physical education and sports management from EMU in 2002. He has earned continuing education credits in sports management from Drake University and completed the Path to Leadership program from the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals (MASSP).
Bush was inducted into MHSFCA Hall of Fame and Ypsilanti High School Hall of Fame both in 2019. He and his wife Laura have three adult children, two daughters and a son.
PHOTO Chelsea coach Brad Bush directs his team during the 2015 Division 3 Final at Ford Field.